Catnip: Not Just For Cats Anymore
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I’m not going to lie, I started growing catnip specifically for my fur babies. I am known by my friends and family as a “crazy cat lady”, but truth be told, it just so happens that cats are what show up at my door in need of rescue. If a dog or any other animal was in need of a home, I would probably rescue them too… but I digress.
Catnip is a wonderful plant, and I adore making homemade toys for my babies filled with catnip that I know isn’t treated with who knows what kind of carcinogenic chemicals. I am really getting to think that unless I grow it, I’m scared to know exactly how it was grown.
But, in doing a little research, I’ve found that catnip is actually a very versatile plant.
Catnip is a perennial herb, known also as catnep, catmint, catrup, catwort, nip, nep, and field balm. Indigenous to Europe, and I suppose that (like many common plants) it arrived with European settlers. While the scent effects cats, it also can also alter the behavior of other mammals and even insects. And (this I didn’t know) not all cats are affected by catnip. They can possess a hereditary trait of immunity to the effects.
It was originally used as a tea, juice, tincture, infusion, and poultice and has been smoked and chewed. It fell out of favor with the development of more effective drugs. More recently, it has been used by people for its hallucinogenic effects.
Nervous problems were treated using the tea and infusions. It has a soothing effect and has been used to treat nervous headaches, hysteria, and insanity. The root portion of the plant has the opposite effect. One reference stated, “if the root is chewed it will make the quietest person fierce and quarrelsome”.
The catnip plant was used both as a mild stimulant and for its quieting effect on the nervous system. The method of tea preparation is to put one ounce in one pint of boiling water. Adults are given two to three tablespoons while children are given only two to three teaspoons. If too much of the tea is ingested, then Emesis* may occur. It was a remedy for infantile colic and flatulence. Catnip cured the hiccups, according to some.
Catnip uses also include fever, digestive issues, bladder dysfunction, bronchial congestion, menstrual cramps, colds and flu, and even as an insect repellent.
Catnip is one of the easiest herbs to grow. Start it from seed in spring and/or summer in zones 3-9. Catnip prefers a fertile, well-drained soil in partial shade, and does well in window boxes or pots. Divide the roots in spring and fall. A self-sowing plant that grows quickly, catnip can yield several harvests within a year.
I typically harvest catnip as needed during the summer, and cut a bit extra to begin drying for over the winter months while I’m there. Cut the stems a few inches from the ground so that you allow for regrowth and additional harvests. Leave about 6″ on the plant, just to be safe.
To dry catnip, you can hang it or place it in a dehydrator. I like to hang bundles of 6-12 stems tied with twine in my garage. If I think about it in the morning before work, I check the weather and if it’s going to be a sunny, warm day, I hang it outside in the sun. I just make sure to bring it back in at night, because even the smallest amount of moisture from an overnight dew can cause mold growth.
When using the dehydrator (which I do on occasion), I lay one single layer on each tray and dry at a medium setting for about 8-10 hours. In both methods, once it crumbles easily in your hand, then it’s ready for storage. I typically vacuum seal mine in bags or jars. Or just a regular plastic baggie will work also if you get as much air out as possible.
To use your dried catnip, (other than in cat toys obviously) I like to make tea with it. Add other fragrant and tasty dried herbs into the mix to improve the flavor of your tea.
Try this blend:
1 part Chamomile
2 parts Catnip
1 part Lemon Balm
Store this in any airtight container and use 1 tsp. of this blend to 1 cup boiling water. Steep for about 20 minutes, and then sweeten as you desire. I typically use a simple syrup made with Stevia leaves, but honey is excellent also. I highly recommend an infusion teapot or French press. I’m a bigger fan of the French press, as it has dual uses (roasted dandelion root coffee??).
Do you have any other uses for catnip that I haven’t mentioned? Another catnip tea or other recipe, perhaps?
Make sure you drop a comment to share your own uses for catnip!!
*Emesis (em´ĕ-sis): vomiting Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved