What is Catnip?
Catnip plants, and how Alaskan catnip is grown.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a plant in the mint family, it is easy to grow from seed. Not only does it survive cold winters, (except in Alaska) it self–sows, as long as a few plants are allowed to flower and go to seed.
Catnip likes lots of light and sun. It grows as high as 5 feet in the Matanuska Valley, but most plants are between 3 and 4 feet tall. Some leaves grow as big as 4” in diameter when mature.
When a cat is given a catnip toy, it sniffs at the toy, licks and rubs the toy over it’s cheek, rolls over on it, and just has a wonderful time playing. When two or more cats are given a catnip toy, they knock each other over and have lots of fun playing with the toy. Watching them play is more entertaining than TV.
What makes cats go crazy? The active chemical in catnip is nepetalactone. This is concentrated, and located in special glands on the surface of the catnip leaves.
The original discovery of catnip's effects on cats is unknown or lost in history, but we do know that it has been around for hundreds of years in European countries. In Italy catnip is called erba dei gatti, in German it's called katzenminze, in Spain it is menta de gato, the French call it herbe aux chats.
Catnip was first written about in an herbal book by John Gerald, in 1597, as a plant that relieved cold pains in the head, pains in the stomach, and a sleeping aid when brewed as a tea. When the Colonists left England in the seventeenth century for the new world, they brought along their seeds. Catnip was just one of them. The Appalachia and Pennsylvania Dutch people still use catnip tea as a mild sedative, and for relief of colic in infants.
To begin life as a 4ft catnip plant, you have to start in the beginning. The seed is VERY TINY (about the size of coarse black pepper) it takes anywhere from 3 weeks to a year to germinate, but grows quickly once it has it’s first 2 seed leaves. Catnip should be planted safe from cats in the neighborhood or they will find it, and might destroy it before it can mature.
To start a crop of catnip plants with seeds, sow directly into the ground when the soil is warm; however a more plentiful harvest will be reaped if started earlier indoors.
Catnip stems can get 1” in diameter and are hollow. The stems and leaves are covered with small hairs. Most insects do not like catnip plants, so there are very few bug problems.
When the catnip plant starts getting buds, it’s time to cut it back. Tie it in a bunch, and hang it up to dry in a warm dark place. (Away from cats)
In about one week, when the leaves are dry remove them and put the leaves in an airtight container. Keep them as a treat for your feline friend, or make your friend a toy.