The Sweet Life Gardener – Catnip

By Alisa Murray

By Alisa Murray

Hey Sweet Lifers! There’s one herb in my garden that is appreciated more than any other by my Sweet Life cats, and it is, of course, catnip. I planted a small amount of it at the edge of the steps a few years back, and now it is a huge plant that brings so much joy.

Catnip’s history traces back to the Roman Empire where it got its name Nepeta Cataria and found its way to the United States in the 1700s. Catnip is one of the easiest herbs to grow as it is part of the mint family, and we all know mint is a hearty plant!

Catnip has many uses other than entertainment for your cats, although they are the primary reason that I grow it. In the garden this herb acts as a repellent for mosquitos and rats. It has a pungent smell that is similar to the pheromones that cats give off, which is the reason cats love it and insects do not. So, it is a great option for organic gardeners looking to deter rodents from nibbling on their radishes and such.

The culinary uses for catnip are interesting as it has been used in soups, sauces and cheeses. Medicinally, catnip has had more popularity over the centuries as a sort of do it all remedy. Interestingly, this herb has an effect on humans that shows polarity based on how it is ingested. It is used to treat everything from gastrointestinal issues to anxiety. When made into a tea, it is great for inducing sleep and calming the nerves. However, if it is chewed in leaf form, it can aggravate and induce “confidence.” There’s an old wife’s tale of an executioner who did not like his job very much, and in order to gain confidence to do his job, he would chew the leaves of catnip.

Catnip also has a quite wishy way effect on animals. In the instance of cats, there’s an old saying that if you plant it, a cat won’t know it, but if you dry it, they’ll go mad. My cats know it in my garden and frolic and play around it daily. Sasha even likes to wallow in it and sleep! But boy when I dry it, they are keen to drag it all around and pitty pat with it before chasing a squirrel up a tree!

Catnip is one of those herbs that can fill in a spot in your garden and benefit all. Whether you use it for a tea or dry it for your cats to enjoy, or just let it grow big and deter those critters that noone really wants in the garden, because they are not “sweet,” it is useful and beneficial and that makes it a lovely addition to any home herb garden indeed.