Catnip is a short-lived herbaceous perennial that is hardy to USDA 3 to 9.
Native to Europe, this perennial was introduced to North America and is a favorite among felines and herbalists alike. A member of the Lamiaceae family, catnip is a mint with classic square stems and alternating leaves. Catnip has toothed heart-shaped leaves that are fuzzy and grayish-green in color. It is highly aromatic and grows up to three to four feet tall, making a great border and companion plant. In mid to late summer catnip produces dense spikes composed is small individual flowers that are white with a lovely light purple undertone. Catnip lives for up to five seasons, but we’ve noticed that it produces its highest yields in the second and third seasons growth.
In the wild, catnip grows in dry soils and is commonly found on the edges of fields, on stream banks, and on disturbed lands. It grows well in full to partial sun and likes well-drained soil with good fertility and organic matter.
The seeds of catnip are light dependent germinators and should be planted on the soil surface or covered lightly with potting mix. Seeds should be stratified for best germination results. Catnip can be direct-seeded in early spring or grown from transplants or vegetative cuttings On our farm, we prefer growing catnip from transplants; this makes for fewer weeds and a cleaner harvest. Once established, catnip will spread vegetatively and will also self-seed.
Although this perennial can live for five years or more, ctnip yields ten to be lower in older plants. Yields are consistently higher in plants in their second and third years of growth but after that begin to wane. Being highly aromatic and attractive to pollinators, catnip can be good companion plant to repel pesky insects and attract beneficials. It makes a nice border for crops such as calendula and echinacea, which are susceptible to disease carried by insects. Plant spacing is twelve inches between plants within the row, twenty-eight inches between rows.
Catnip is a wonderful nervine that is safe to use with children and adults. It has a calming, sedative effect and can help ease fussiness in children; it promotes sleep and is good for reducing digestive upset. Catnip has bitter properties and not only calms the stomach but acts as carminative and helps dispel gas. In addition to its nervine and bitter actions catnip helps promote sweating, brings down fevers, and is commonly used with herbs like boneset and yarrow to treat flu symptoms. Slightly astringent, it is also good for treating children with diarrhea and can be taken as a tea or tincture. Another way we use catnip is to make an herbally infused honey with it and add it to beverages. Catnip is also, of course, a stimulant for cats and is often found marketed for their toys and treats.
Large commercial herb farms often produce catnip much like they would a hay crop, using machinery to cut, field dry, and bale the harvest. Field-drying catnip produces low-quality results and is not recommended for medicinal purposes. Catnip is harvested when it goes into full bloom in mid to late summer. Cut the whole plant, both leaves and flowers, with a field knife or sickle bar. When harvesting, be sure to leave at least six to eight inches from the crown to allow for regeneration.
Post Harvest Drying Conditions
Dry catnip at temperatures of 95 to 100 degrees F. Do not dry catnip at very high temperatures or the volatile essential oils can be lost. Tops should be dried whole, in partial shade and with good airflow. Under good conditions catnip can dry in two to three days. Leaves and flowers can be garbled together after drying by rubbing them over a quarter to half inch stainless steel mesh and picking out the stems. Once garbled, mix leaves and blossoms together.
Pests and Diseases
Catnip has minimal disease or pest pressure due, in part, to its highly aromatic nature.