Everyone knows that catnip makes cats crazy but fewer people know that catnip makes a soothing tea. The tea has a light minty flavor because catnip is a member of the mint family. The plants have the characteristic square stem, serrated leaves and flower spikes of mints.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a short-lived herbaceous perennial that is native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East through central Asia and parts of China. It has become naturalized throughout the rest of Europe and is now found in North America and New Zealand thanks to the European colonists.
It is hardy in zones 3 through 9. Plant it in well-drained soil and water sparingly. Catnip likes to be dry. It is drought tolerant so you can use it in a xeriscape. Like most mints, it prefers full sun, but will tolerate a little shade. Full grown plants grow 2’ to 3’ tall. It is recommended that you pinch the plants to make them bushier. Catnip has a tendency to get tall and leggy and fall over. The flowers are white or lavender and bloom time is late spring through fall if you deadhead.
Apartment dwellers will be happy to hear that catnip can be grown indoors provided you have a sunny window that gets a minimum of 5 hours of sun each day. If you don’t have a window that meets the requirements, you can provide supplemental lighting instead using a plain old fluorescent bulb. Make sure that your plant has good drainage. Allow it to dry out between waterings. You can use a weak liquid fertilizer regularly. Used full strength, your plants will get tall and leggy. Plants grown indoors will not be as tall nor as potent as plants grown outdoors. Be aware that some people have complained that catnip smells like a skunk so they do not grow it indoors. And, of course, protect your plants from your cat(s).
Catnip is easy to propagate by cuttings or seed. To propagate by cuttings, snip off the growing tips or leaf tips, dip in rooting hormone and then plant in a sterile medium. Keep your cuttings moist, not wet.
If you don’t deadhead your catnip flowers, you will have many volunteers in your garden from the seeds. It can become invasive if you are not watchful.
You can start seeds indoors 8 weeks before your last frost. Barely cover the seeds and keep them moist but not wet. Germination should occur in 7 to 10 days. You can set your plants out in your garden after all danger of frost has passed.
You can start harvesting leaves when your plants reach a height of 8 inches and continue harvesting throughout the growing season. The best time of day to harvest your leaves is late morning after the dew has dried. You can air dry the leaves and flowers or they can be dried in your oven (110⁰F for 2 to 3 hours), microwave (1-2 minutes on high) or food dehydrator. Store your dried catnip in tightly sealed, glass containers in a cool, dry place with no sunlight.
To make catnip tea, bring your water to a boil and transfer to a non-metal teapot. Use 2 tablespoons of fresh leaves or flowers, or 1 tablespoon of dried leaves or flowers to the pot for each cup of water, plus an extra 2 tablespoons of fresh or 1 tablespoon of dried “for the pot.” Don’t forget to use more herbs if making ice tea to allow for the extra water from the melting ice cubes. Steep for five minutes or until the tea reaches your desired strength, strain out the herbs and enjoy!