Whether or not a feline is a member of your family, catnip (Nepeta cataria) can be a valuable herb to add to your garden. Its attractive gray-green foliage has slightly scalloped leaves, and is seldom bothered by insect or disease damage. It’s an easy-to-grow perennial that will do well in full to partial sun and average to slightly moist soils. The pretty pale pinkish-white flowers are born on sturdy stalks in abundance, and are enjoyed by many pollinators throughout a long, long blooming season. At 3’ in height, it can be a lovely filler in mid-border, and makes a good filler in cut flower arrangements as well (if you do not have housecats!) While sometimes a short-lived perennial, it will self-seed or can be easily propagated by divisions or cuttings, or grown from seed.
Traditionally, catnip like its fellow members of the mint family, has been used as a tea. Known to be relaxing and calming, it was often given to fussy children or feisty adults. However, it should be known that about 20% of the human population react the opposite after drinking the tea, and may become more restless or agitated. My favorite catnip for tea is Lemon Catnip (Nepeta cataria var. citriodora) which has a distinctive lemon scent and flavor and can only be distinguished from regular catnip by those fragrant characteristics because visually, it appears the same. It is also easy to grow from seed, but the seed is harder to find.
While most cats react to catnip’s essential oil (nepetalactone) with joy, chewing it, rolling in it, batting at imaginary toys, etc., a few may find it just annoying or dismiss it entirely. The most susceptible to the drug effects are teenage boys, then teenage girls, followed by adult males. Elderly female cats are sometimes little affected at all. The common reaction to catnip is a burst of happy energy, followed by a long nap to recover. We kept a catnip-filled cloth “mouse” in a plastic bag in our freezer. Before we expected to be away, but while we were there to supervise and enjoy his antics, we’d give the “mouse” to our cat. While we were gone, the cat would sleep serenely, never knowing his family was away.