Herbs

Keep Kitty Happy: Grow Catnip

Let’s define our subject first, because for some time now some retailers have been selling trays of grasses or grass seed (usually oats) and offering it under the label « catnip » that your cat would no doubt love to munch on. But real catnip is very different. It’s that plant whose scent affects cats so much that even the most aggressive tomcat will roll on the floor and purr like a kitten.

Photo: w-ings

Catnip is a plant of the Lamiaceae family, closely related to mint, and bears the botanical name Nepeta cataria. It is a plant with upright stems 30 cm (12″) to 100 cm (3’) high, bearing cordate leaves with slightly greyish, serrated margins, and white terminal flowers spotted with red… if your cat lets it flower at all. Catnip is a hardy perennial in zone 3 (USDA zone 2) and is not without its attractions. Theoretically, it could be incorporated into a flowerbed, but for obvious reasons, it’s best to keep it away from fragile plantings, as kitty’s brushing and rolling around it could damage the surrounding plants. Give him a place of his own, with sturdy shrubs as a backdrop.

Growing Catnip

Catnip plants can be obtained from herb specialists, as the plant, which has a mint-like scent, is sometimes used as a medicinal herb. However, it’s easier to obtain seeds, which are available in many catalogs, websites and sometimes even in stores.

Seeds germinate quickly and easily, and transplants also do well… if pussycat doesn’t pull them out immediately. Indeed, the poor plant needs protection from feline assaults in its youth: make a chicken-pin cage about 30 cm x 30 cm x 30 cm (12″x12″x12″)and place it over your plant to give it some chance. When it’s stronger, you could free it from its prison.

Photo: Nahhan

Otherwise, catnip is easy to grow, thriving in full sun to part shade in any well-drained garden soil. It sometimes resows too vigorously, so it’s best to harvest it before it goes to seed.

And catnip can be harvested and dried. The best time is when the plant is in bud, but before the flowers open, when the flavor is more concentrated. Tie the 4 or 5 stems together and hang them from the ceiling until they dry. Afterwards, you can break off the stems and crumble the leaves to make a “powder” that you can store in a tightly-sealed jar. You can “serve” dried catnip as is, or include it in fabric sachets.

How Does It Work?

We still don’t understand why so many cats react to catnip (curiously, some cats, especially neutered males at a young age, have no interest in it at all), but one of the secrets may be nepetalactone, a molecule similar in structure to LSD, but with no effect on humans. Yes, when your kitty looks at you with eyes in bine fat after grazing on catnip, he may be completely stoned!

Photo: w-ings

Note that it’s not just domestic cats that are affected by catnip, but most felines, from lions to ocelots. So the next time you’re chased by a cougar in your backyard, throw some catnip at it and you might just live!


Larry Hodgson published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings accessible to the public. This text was originally published in Le Soleil on June 30, 2006.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Keep Kitty Happy: Grow Catnip

  1. Catmint is Nepeta faassenii, which is a different species. Catnip is Nepeta cataria. Catmint is popular here because of its resilience to arid warmth. Cats do not seem to bother it much. I grew catnip only briefly before the bobcats ruined it. If I were to grow it now, it would be in a hanging pot.

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