How to Grow Catnip - For yourself AND Your Cats!

by Luke Marion

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial plant zones 3-9 that is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. The exact origin of catnip is not known, but it is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region or in Central Asia, historians are not entirely sure due to herbalism being widespread in most of the world, and combining with spice trade which muddies the origins further. Catnip is in the mint family, which is where it gets the nickname "cat mint".

Catnip has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties, and it was also used as a culinary herb in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was later introduced to North America by European settlers and has since become naturalized in many parts of the continent.

The chemical in catnip that makes it attractive and "addictive" to cats is called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an organic compound found in the essential oil of catnip leaves and stems. When cats smell nepetalactone, it stimulates special receptors in their noses, it can cause a variety of responses in cats, such as increased playfulness, hyperactivity, and relaxation.

catnip tea

Catnip is also safe for human consumption. Catnip has been cultivated for thousand sof years. Commonly used in teas and in herbal medicine. The leaves and young shoots of the plant can be used fresh or dried to make teas, soups, stews, and sauces. The flavor of catnip is often described as minty or slightly lemony, and it can be used in the same way as other herbs such as mint or basil. Lastly, pollinators like honeybees and bumblebees absolutely love it too.   

Here is how you can grow your own!

Location - Catnip grows best in full sun to partial shade, in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Choose a location in your garden that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.

Planting - Catnip can be grown from seeds or seedlings. If planting from seeds, sow them directly into the soil in the spring, after the last frost. If planting seedlings, space them 18-24 inches apart. Catnip can spread like mint, so planting in a pot is also a good idea.

Watering - Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. Water deeply once or twice a week, depending on weather conditions. Catnip can handle plenty of abuse, but if overwatered it will suffer from root rot and die-back fairly quickly.

Fertilizing - Catnip does not require a lot of fertilizer, but it can benefit from a light application of a balanced fertilizer once or twice a year. Catnip is a perennial, meaning it will benefit from a fertilizing in the beginning of the year before it starts to grow, and at the end of the season to prepare it for winter. I prefer to fertilize with Nitrogen in the spring, and phosphorus in the fall.

Pruning and care -  Catnip can become leggy if not pruned regularly. The dense inner leaves will block sunlight and become bare inside the plant.. Pruning opens up leaves to the inside of the plant. Pinch back the stems by one-third in early summer to encourage bushier growth. Watch for pests, catnip is generally resistant to pests and diseases, but it can attract aphids and whiteflies. If you notice pests, a general rule of thumb is to spray with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Since you or your animal are consuming this, it is recommended to wash the harvest, regardless of what you spray on the crop for pests or diseases. 

Harvesting -  You can harvest the leaves of the catnip plant once it reaches about 6 inches tall. Cut the leaves from the stems and dry them for later use. 


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