Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an herb in the mint family. Though it does have some pharmaceutical properties that are used to treat people, it is perhaps best known for its effect on cats.
Each cat reacts to catnip in a different fashion. Some cats become excited by contact with catnip. Others become relaxed. Still others become anxious or sometimes even aggressive while “under the influence” of catnip. Some cats do not react to catnip at all. In fact, the ability to react to catnip is an inherited trait in cats.
Is Catnip Safe for Cats?
Catnip is completely safe for your cat. There are no addictive properties, so there is no need to worry about giving your cat too much catnip. It is often sewn into cat toys, but its leaves can also be dried and rubbed or sprinkled on scratching posts or placed in cat beds or on perches.
A simple do-it-yourself catnip toy can be made by placing some dried catnip inside an old sock and tying the top of the sock to hold the catnip in place. When necessary, simply replace the catnip with a fresh supply, and the toy is rejuvenated.
Growing Your Own Catnip
Catnip can be grown both indoors and outside. If grown indoors, keep the plants away from your cat, particularly when they are seedlings or your plants won’t survive your cat’s nibbling.
Catnip is aromatic, and some people find the odor overwhelming. Place your plants accordingly.
Catnip prefers full or partial sun. When grown indoors, you’ll need a window space that gets at least 6 hours of light.
Catnip can be started from seeds or can be grown from cuttings. Seeds can be spread outdoors in the early spring, once the threat of frost has passed or indoors anytime. Seeds can also be started indoors and the seedlings moved outdoors when weather permits. Seeds germinate in approximately 1-2 weeks. Cuttings can simply be placed in soil where they will take root and grow.
Catnip is a reasonably hardy plant, and there are few parasites or diseases that will bother it. Keep your plants well watered. They will grow to approximately 3 feet in height. Dead-heading the spent flowers will encourage your catnip plants to keep growing and blooming.
Harvesting Catnip for Your Cat
Harvest your catnip when it is blooming. This is when the oils are the most aromatic. Four to eight inches can be cut from the plant, allowing the plant to regrow. Strip the leaves from the stems and spread them in a thin layer in a dry place with good air circulation. The drying leaves can be rearranged once or twice daily to even the drying process, which typically takes two to three weeks to complete.
Once the leaves are dry and brittle, they can be crumbled into small pieces and stored in an airtight container for future use. Use this finished product whenever you wish to give your cat a special treat or toy.