Years ago I bought a packet of catnip seeds and started a small patch of cat mint for my kitties. Since then, I’ve not had to buy any more. Catnip produces copious seeds that sprout up everywhere. The plant is a perennial of short life, surviving a couple winters before disappearing. Meanwhile, it makes seedlings. A nice selection of organic catnip spreads around the rock gardens in my front yard.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the cat mint genus, and the only species favored by cats. The scent of fresh or dried leaves drives my cats a little looney. They eat the fresh leaves. I sprinkle dried, crushed leaves on the scratching post, which then becomes the magic place for a few hours. You have to watch out for cats on catnip, they can become unpredictable and even aggressive. Mostly catnip makes my cats excessively loving.
I started growing catnip because it is expensive to buy and the quality of commercial catnip is lacking. All the stems, flower buds and coarse pieces are mostly filler. The finest part of the catnip is the leaves. The aromatic oils favored by cats, and people who enjoy catnip tea, are concentrated in the leaves. If the plant is kept pinched back, it will not bloom and all the energy goes into producing large, highly scented leaves.
About every other week, in the morning right after the dew has dried, I gather catnip. I use a thumbnail to pinch off the tender new growth, usually six to eight leaves, taking a long stalk with the leaves. Left on the plant is a branching joint with tiny leaves just starting. In a couple weeks those leaves will have formed a new stalk ready to harvest. I gather the herb throughout summer until August. Then I give the plant a chance to flower so new seed will be spread.
After flowering, the plant will start leafy growth again. Autumn catnip is the most potent. The leaves are thicker and often have a purplish tint. The scent is so strong in freshly harvested autumn catnip that it can aggravate my asthma. The photo at the top is of fresh autumn catnip.
The fresh herb is bunched, four or five stalks together, and held with a small rubber band. The bunches are hung to dry upside down in a dark, well ventilated area. One of the secrets to preserving the full potency of an herb is to dry it quickly, upside down and out of the light. The leaves can not be allowed to mold or leak their juices. Light will fade the color of the leaves and cause oils to evaporate.
Since good catnip is hard to buy, I decided to offer some of my highest quality for sale in my online stores. This offering is very limited and usually sells out fast. I sell dried, whole leaf catnip with the coarse stalks removed. Preserved as whole leaf, the dried mint retains more of the aromatic oil cats love. I make sure the leaves are well dried then seal the catnip in plastic so the oils will not evaporate. People rave over how well their cats respond to my catnip compared to what else is available on the market. I’m glad to make so many cats happy.