Catnip is very easy to grow. So easy in fact that it has become an invasive weed in many parts of the US, and can be found growing along hedgerows, near streams, on waste ground and especially anywhere there is calciferous soil as they prefer soil that is alkaline.

To grow catnip well you need to be in USDA zones 3 – 10. Catnip plants were introduced from Europe where they grow wild, especially around the Mediterranean basin, to the US in the last century.

Catnip or catmint as it is sometimes called, is a herbal plant and a member of the mint family. Its correct botanical term is nepeta cataria. An upright plant, it grows to around 3′ tall.

Its leaves are shaped like a serrated heart—not unlike the common nettle—and pale green in color. Catnip plants produce flower heads in their stalks in late summer and the flowers appear in small conical clusters, with colors ranging from blue or a white in addtion to various hues of pink or lilac.

The invasive nepeta cataria spreads via its extensive underground root system and also by wind-borne dried seed heads. Unlike mint, the plant does not require regular watering to stay healthy. The catnip plant is drought-resistant and very hardy.

Growing Catnip Outdoors

If there is some catnip in your area, by far the easiest way to grow it is to simply dig out some rooted offshoots from the parent plant, and replant them in a spot where you want to grow catnip. Be sure to plant them in an area where it can receive full sun.

Do be careful when replanting your catnip plant as being rough when handling it in may cause bruising of the leaves or stem, and it is very difficult to notice by the naked eye. When the plant is bruised, it will release a substance known as nepetalactone and the wind will spread its scent thus potentially attracting cats from varied distances.

Most cats are very much attracted to nepetalactone (up to 30% of all cats are not affected—more on that later) which is available copiously in the leaves, stems, and flowers of the catnip plant. We can’t really see the bruising but the cats in your neighborhood are naturally imbued with high-level olfactory senses. They can easily detect the premature release of the substance because of the bruising.

The cats will then seek out the plant and will likely ruin it since it is still in a weakened state. In order for the plant to grow strong and thrive, the plant must be allowed to establish new roots so that it can stabilize itself.

Protect your baby catnip plant with netting or similar. If you prefer to grow catnip from seed, simply rake the soil up and scatter the seed where you want them to grow, rake them into the soil very lightly, and water well.

It may be easier to plant the seed in straight rows, then thin out as required when the seedlings appear. Remember they grow to around 3′ high and are bushy plants so a good amount of space is important.

a gorgeous catnip border

Young seedlings will need to be protected from passing cats, so either fence your seedlings in, or cover them with a netting. While most catnips are perennial, some are annual and if you grow catnip from seed, remember to ask the seller what which is it that you are buying.

Perennial plants will return year after year if frost cuts them down, or in warmer climates, they simply do not stop growing, ever, though they will grow less in winter. Annual plants grow for one season only and need to be grown from seed again the following year.

If your catnip plant is an annual variety, simply save its seed from the parent plant when flowering is finished and the seed heads have turned brown. Seed collected before said process will not be mature enough to grow new plants with.

Other Uses of Catnip

Aside from being appealing to cats, the catnip plant possess medicinal properties. Its leaves, flowers and stems can all be collected and used fresh or dried. They can then be chopped up and made into a tea infusion, which makes for a fairly pleasant tasting drink said to help improve sleep quality, relieve coughs and fever, or to soothe a baby’s colic.

The leaves can be added to culinary dishes including salads, where the taste is described as being “slightly minty.” If you grow catnip in your garden, you might want to make the most out of the plants by utilizing its parts for an assortment of purposes.

When dried the catmint plant makes a very decent insecticide around the house. To dry, cut the plant off at the base and hang it upside down to dry in an airing cupboard. When completely dry, the stems will snap if slight pressure is applied. On the other hand If it bends, that means it still contains some moisture.

Once it is completely dried, you can either chop it up or pulverize in a blender, then bottled it in an airtight container or placed in a sealed polythene bag.

Cat toys can be made from dried catnip. Simply sew the dried catnip into a cat sized bean bag or something similar, and use it for some fun-loving time with your cat.

Even if you don’t like cats nor want to use it for the purposes described above, you may want to grow catnip plants in your garden anyway—preferably in containers to prevent them from spreading—because they are very attractive to bees. As every gardener knows, bees are very beneficial in the garden because of their pollinating abilities which can help bring ripened fruit and flowers year after year.

Catnip makes for a good companion plant in one’s vegetable garden. Finally, crop-damaging pests the likes of flea beetles, rats, and deer are not too fond of the catnip plant.

Cats on Catnip

If you own a cat, and have not exposed your kitty to the wonders of catnip, you, and your cat, are missing out my friend! Watching a cat that is enamored with catnip is quite an entertaining event.

a cat enjoying his catnip

Cats that are affected by catnip generally roll around, kick and lick, drool, and growl, and just act plain whacky for a few minutes. One might suspect they have snuck in the liquor cabinet.

What Exactly Is Catnip, And Why Does It Make My Cat Crazy?

I did a brief introduction of plant at the beginning of this article, but let’s recap in a more succinct manner. No way to make this explanation entertaining, but here it goes…catnip is the common name for a perennial herb called “Nepeta cataria”, a member of the Labiatae (mint) family.

Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, catnip is now found in much of North America and Canada. The active chemical in catnip is nepetalactone, which simulates the affected cat when it is inhaled or smelled.

Kitty will usually have a reaction for ten to twenty minutes, until he becomes acclimated, when he will no longer respond. However, if you reintroduce the catnip a few hours later, he could very well enjoy once again. What is still unknown is what actually happens in the brain of a cat which causes this behavior.

It appears that the reaction to catnip is inherited; therefore, up to 30% of all cats are not affected by “the lure of the nip”, which is unfortunate. And some cats, who do respond, do so by displaying sedate or droopy behavior.

In addition, most young kittens, less than 6 months old, and older cats, generally have a lesser reaction or no reaction at all. So bottom line, when you bring that kitten home, there’s really no way to tell whether she will respond favorably to catnip.

Is Catnip Safe?

For the most part, catnip is not harmful to cats, nor is it addictive. However, some cats have had some stomach upset when a large quantity of catnip had been ingested. If your cat does have an adverse reaction after ingesting, just limit the catnip use to socks or toys where it can be contained.

Where Can I Find Catnip?

Cat nip is easily accessible. Most pet stores sell a variety of dried catnip, or organic catnip, which could be healthier for your cat, as well as catnip toys, oils, etc. Another option would be purchasing a catnip plant, or you can grow catnip yourself like we talked about early on.

Over time, nepetalactone will degrade, therefore the fresher the catnip, the more potent. If you place your catnip in a container or plastic bag, and store in the freezer, it will maintain its potency longer.