Commonly known as Catnip, nepeta cataria is a strongly aromatic member of the mint family, and so comes under the classification of a herb. When growing catnip from seed, it is important to note that it grows well in USDA zones 5 - 9, and is perennial, dying back in the winter for a period of dormancy, and sprouting again in the spring.
Like the mint, care has to be taken so that the catnip herb does not crowd out the other plants in your garden. It can become almost a noxious weed in some areas. The mints spread their underground roots and pop up new sprouts all over the place, so it might be advisable to grow your catnip in a large pot buried up to its neck in soil, else keep it on the terrace in a container, if you don't want an entire catnip garden.
It can be grown inside your house all year round, but it will likely die in the winter as they need a cold dormancy period and in most houses they are not likely to get that. They would in mine but that's another story!
While there are several different varieties of catnip, the best catnip for growing for your cats is nepeta cataria.
How To Grow Catnip from Seed
First obtain some catnip seed. They can be bought in most garden stores, else ordered here online. Perhaps you have a friend or neighbour who grows it who would be prepared to give you a rooted offshoot or some seeds from their plants?
Plant your catnip seed just under the surface of a compost-filled pot and water well. Keep warm but out of direct sunlight.
When the seedlings appear, anything between 2 days to 3 weeks later, either thin out the weakest and only plant on the strongest looking ones, else plant them all on into individual pots.
Do not do this before the second set of leaves appear (the first 'true' leaves).
Catnip plants like a lot of water when growing, so you may have to water them twice a day. When all risk of frost has passed, plant them out in the garden, about 18" apart. They tolerate sun through to semi-shade, but if you live in a warm climate they might be better off in the shadier parts of the garden. They like neutral to slightly alkaline, well-drained soils, but tolerate acid soils well.
They can tolerate drought quite well once they are established.
Fully mature, they can reach 5' in height.
Catnip seedlings a week after planting
Catnip seedlings growing on in pots
Grow Catnip from Seed - Insect Predators
Catnip plants are not usually attacked by anything except cats who go wild for them. Even if you don't have any cats, don't be surprised to see all your neighbourhood cats paying your garden visits for a quick roll on your catnip plants!
Organic catnip is therefore your best bet to buy, as the seeds don't need to be pre-treated to conserve them.
Uses of Catnip
Catnip is one of the plants commonly used by herbalists to assist a wide variety of conditions.
Dried and made into a tea by soaking one teaspoon dried catnip for a child, or two teaspoons for an adult in a cup of boiled water, it is said to relieve colic in babies (where the tea can be mixed with infant milk) and digestion problems in children and adults.
This tea is also drank as a relaxant at bedtime, or to soothe coughs.
It is also said to regulate the menstrual cycle in women and reduce dysmenorrhoea.
The leaves are said to relieve toothache when chewed.
The oils in the plants (which can be released by crushing) are said to be good for cleaning wounds.
Its other claims to fame are as an anaesthetic, antibiotic, anti-rheumatic, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, relieves muscular aches and pains, and haemorrhoids.
Smoking catmint is another method of taking the dried plant for medicinal use.
The catmint is a distant cousin of marijuana, and can cause a mild hallucinogenic effect on some humans as well as cats.
There is some physical similarities between these two plants as you can see from these pictures below.
Catnip as an Insecticide
Catnip is reported to deter insects better than DEET. As a regular user of DEET, I have yet to try this as mosquito repellent, but I intend to try this summer because mosquitoes just love me! If I forget to close a window at nighttime, I'll wake up covered in bites. If I go out to the garden without my DEET spray on, I get bitten half to death!
DEET is expensive and catnip is free after the initial cost of buying the seed, so I'm definitely going to try catnip.
It supposedly also deters cockroaches and many other horrible insects that invade houses in warmer climates.
Having just spent a summer with my whole kitchen window area taken up with junior catnip plants, I’m happy to confirm my kitchen saw no spiders, nor ants or other creepy-crawlies this year, despite an almost-permanently open kitchen window.
Insects mostly really do not like the smell of catnip.
Except bees. Bees really love them. I had to rescue several this summer and put them out.
Catnip Bud in Full Bloom
How to Harvest and Dry Catnip
- While you can nip off growing heads or cuttings at any time, it is best to wait until the catnip flowers.
- Some people think it should be harvested before flowering, or just as the flowers are coming out. If you wait, the flowers will eventually fade and become sticky. The smell at that time is especially pungent. This is the time I prefer.
- Cut the whole stem off, leaving about 2” at the base. Don’t worry, your catnip plant will recover and come back.
- Group a bunch of stems together, and hang upside down in a warm, dry but ventilated area. Depending on your climate, you can can completly dry your catnip in anywhere between 3 days to 6 weeks.
- Alternatively, you can strip off the flowers and leaves, and place in a dehydrator, or even place on a baking sheet in a very low oven.
- Rub between fingers to break the leaves and flowers into little pieces.
- Store in a sealed airtight container.
- Use as required.
Catnip for Cats
What better present could you give your cat! While it is rolling on the catnip it is leaving all your other plants alone.
You could even start a cottage industry, making dried catnip balls and organic catnip toys for all your neighbourhood cats.
An interesting thing about catnip is that not every cat is attracted to it, although something like 80% are. When a cat finds catnip, it goes mental for about three-quarters of an hour, then it will dismiss it as if it never existed.
It's almost as if whatever effect it had, wore off, although a few hours later, your cat will rediscover the joys again.
When I say the word CAT, I really do mean all cats, including lions and tigers etc so if you live in a area where they roam free, I do NOT advise growing catnip.
Some cats find fresh or freshly-dried catnip to be too strong for them, and they will turn away from it.
If this happens, just place your catnip in a bag or similar, and leave in a dry, warm place for a year or two to lose some of its potency.
Your own home-grown catnip is going to be much more potent that shop-bought catnip. The difference is in the freshness.
The cameraman has captured the ecstacy of cats on catnip beautifully
A good compost makes all the difference when growing Catnip
The Growing Medium of Catnip is Important
Catnip is one plant which responds amazingly well to good quality compost. Most of my plants are grown in a fair quality, but cheap medium.
I accidentally filled one pot with an expensive medium, John Innes Potting Compost No 2, and the difference in growth rate with the rest of the seedlings was simply stunning.
This one plant of Nepeta Cataria quickly grew to over 2 feet tall, while it’s sisters struggled to reach 2 inches.
Catnip seedling thinks it’s a beanstalk
The Catnip plant flower
More about the catnip plant
Catnip flowers are usually white and some have pinkish centres. Many nepeta varieties (normally called catmint) have blue flowers in varying shades. Some even have white flowers.
All of them contain nepetalactone which the the substance that drives cats wild.
Catnip seeds are produced on the plant when flowering is over, and you can save your own for growing on the following year. They are ready when the pod around them dries and gets ready to release the seeds.
Simply store in a dry container at the bottom of the fridge on in a cool outbuilding until spring, then plant as normal.
Catnip is a perennial, meaning it dies down in the winter and comes back year after year.
If grown indoors or in countries with warm climates, catnip will not die down but will continue to grow over winter.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
IzzyM (author) from UK on March 19, 2012:
That will make a brilliant video and I can't wait to see it :) I can only buy catnip grass here and it is an ugly little plant so I really don't want to grow it. I would love to be able to buy the variety shown above.
jenubouka on March 19, 2012:
I shall see this summer, as I am going to try this, and then video record the reactions of the cats...Hopefully, I will hub a documentary with the cats foaming and frolicking as well.
IzzyM (author) from UK on March 18, 2012:
I read a while ago that a lot of the effect of nepelactone on humans are in the mind. I wouldn't know, having not tried it, but I dearly would love to see to see cats acting like they did on the bottom linked video. Talk about free entertainment?? lol
jenubouka on March 18, 2012:
This is a great tutorial to start my catnip venture! I plan to plant them all around the house, and in the garden were the neighborhood cats think this where they should do their business. I think it would be interesting to try this as a tea, you only can hallucinate smoking it right...? Last thing I need is an Alice in Wonderland venture right before bed.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 12, 2010:
Wow--My cats thank you for this article! I'm definitely going to try this---but as you suggest--in plantpots. I recall my mother having a mint plant when I was a child, and the thing was bigger than I was!
IzzyM (author) from UK on February 15, 2010:
No no I'm growing it first! Actually I think it might be growing wild already locally, it looks awfully familiar!
jayjay40 from Bristol England on February 15, 2010:
My cat goes mental over catnip, now I know how to grow it, he'll have some fun. Thanks IzzyM
IzzyM (author) from UK on February 13, 2010:
Oh wow! well cheers, I want to grow it to get rid of mosquitoes, but I'm sure my two tom cats will appreciate it too :)
pigfish from Southwest Ohio on February 13, 2010:
IzzyM, my cats love catnip, but I have never grown my own. You have inspired me to give it a try! Rainbow (the all white queen of a cat) and Milo (Milosavich the Magnificent common grey tabby) thank you.