Does Your Cat Like a Nip?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family and often called catmint. It contains nepetalactone isomers which intoxicate some cats when they smell it. They roll in it to release the essential oils and increase the aroma. The response to it is connected to a genetic trait that only some cats have. It is just a plant to the rest of cat-dom.
It has a long history of medicinal use going back to the Roman herbal; Agnus catus. This publication claimed that a cup of this warm, minty and piquant tea would treat "...evils that a man has about his throat". Today the tea with its antispasmodic properties is taken to treat upset stomachs, flatulence, bloating and respiratory congestion. As a compress applied to the stomach it is said to relieve the pain of bloating. The isomers have a soothing effect on humans somewhat different than for cats. (Tea recipe). Caution: Do not use if pregnant due to uterine stimulation by this herb.
The pioneers brought catnip to America as one of their pantry essentials. It was even grown as a commercial crop for tea and medicinal use. The big problem was keeping the genetically connected kitties from demolishing the crops; no small feat when cats were not neutered and abundant. A study at the Philadelphia zoo found that big cats like to frolic in catnip as well. Living in cougar country I don't plan any large fields of this cat attractant.
Euell Gibbons made candied catnip leaves to be served at the end of a meal. He considered it a digestive aid and after-dinner breath mint! Simply dip the leaves in a combination of beaten egg white and lemon juice. Sprinkle with sugar and dry.
Like other members of the mint family it is invasive. Give it space or a container to keep it in check. It is a perennial that blooms spring through summer. The leaves are gray-green, heart shaped with ridges. The flowers are pink-purple, massed and spike up to three feet. There are many varieties with different flower colors and growth habits. They all prefer average, sandy and well drained soil and do well in full sun to partial shade. They prolifically sow seeds and I find plants all over the garden. Happily they are easy to pull unlike some tenacious herbs.
Enjoy your challenging catnip adventure! A special thanks to Shirley Farrant and her sweet Lucie for inspiring this column. Any other herb column requests? Check my Website http://www.herbbasket.net for my monthly column and other herb/garden information.