Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is an easy herb to grow in the Bluegrass Region. There are many species of catnip, some of which are called catmints and are grown as ornamental plants. They are all members of the mint family. It is used medicinally and as a soothing warm drink, and can be given to irritable children to calm them and help them sleep. Since catnip actually is a stimulant the tea, it soothes the pains associated with colic. It still makes a safe and soothing tea.
Catnip is grown to discourage rats, who are said to avoid areas where it grows. Bees love catnip flowers and it can be used to attract bees and butterflies.
Like most mints, catnip has a square stem. The catnip stem is covered with fine hairs and grows woody near the base as it ages. The leaves are heart-shaped, gray green and have a scalloped edge. They are covered with soft hairs and appear downy.
The catnip flowers are small spikes of white flowers, but are not very showy. In good conditions catnip can grow to 5 foot high and 3 foot wide. The plant is tough and spreads rapidly by seed through the garden, popping up everywhere.
Catnip grows just about anywhere, in any type of soil, in full sun and partial shade. It grows in dry or wet areas. Catnip is a perennial that dies down to the roots each winter and then returns quite vigorously in the spring. It is hardy to at least zone 4 and probably further.
Catnip tea is used to calm the digestive system and relieve gas pains. It induces perspiration and is used as a fever and headache remedy. Warm bruised leaves are also used as a poultice on wounds and boils.
The active chemical ingredient is nepetalactone. The flower buds have the highest concentration of this chemical but leaves are also used to make tea. For making tea, about a half cup of bruised leaves and buds or a couple teaspoons of dried herb are used to a cup of water. Catnip tea is available in most stores now.