Easy-to-grow catnip for felines

Taking some time to deleaf the long catnip stems that had been drying for the past few weeks, I knew it would not be long before I was joined by my feline friends. Sure enough, within a few minutes, here came two of the cats. The grumpy girl and the young cat absolutely go crazy over the green leaves, while my old guy Tom seemingly could not care less.

Dried leaves were falling on the floor as I was clearing the stems, offering interactive playtime with the duo. The two rolled around in the greenery for a few moments and then simultaneously began running through the house for a game of chase. As I continued my task, they meandered back over after tiring of their game to inquisitively watch my movements.

I have been growing and harvesting catnip for many years, much to the cats’ delight. While I was aware the plant was from the mint family, I was curious to know how the soft, green leaves affected cats. Referencing petmd.com, I discovered that catnip is a perennial herb that contains a chemical compound called nepetalactone. The site explains how this compound acts as a stimulant when sniffed by a cat, however, ingesting the leaves or stems produces sedentary responses.

Looking over at the two furballs after they had munched on a few leaves, the young cat was sprawled across the couch with a catatonic look on his face. The princess was curled on a nearby chair, eluding the drowsiness that was apparent in her sleepy eyes. The article mentioned that the effects usually only last 10 minutes before the cat’s behavior returns to normal. I chuckled about the reference to normal; what exactly is a normal cat?

Interestingly, the author described how catnip does not affect all cats, which is indeed true for my feline family. Tom rarely is interested in green leafy substances, he prefers the $1.89 can of cat food that leaves his breath smelling like a dead fish. Personally, I much prefer the smell of catnip; the aromatic herb is especially pungent when cutting the long stems during harvest.

Catnip is extremely easy to grow. So easy, in fact, I must warn you of its vigorous growth. If anyone has grown any of the 250 varieties of mint, you undoubtedly have seen it readily multiply. My first attempt at planting seed in a large pot was quite successful. As I was new to growing catnip, I waited until the plant developed little white flowers before I cut them back. I wish someone would have explained to me the importance of cutting the stems before they flower. Inside each delicate white flower are hundreds of tiny seeds, which, when dry, easily spread. The following spring, I was overjoyed to discover the catnip in the pot had survived the winter. However, the flower bed next to the pot was also filled with emerging catnip shoots. The catnip took over the whole flower bed that summer.

Needless to say, I am now diligent in cutting the long shoots before they flower. I have a large pot that I started several years ago that continues to produce each year. Typically, as this plant grows quite quickly, it can be cut minimally 3-5 times per season. To harvest, I hang the plants upside down for 2-3 weeks until the leaves are sufficiently dry. Stripping the leaves into a brown paper bag helps reduce the mess, but undoubtedly a few leaves will fall to the floor. Game on, cats! I then store the dried leaves in airtight bags in the freezer to preserve.

Fresh, homegrown catnip given moderately to my feline friends is a respite on cold winter days to relieve confined boredom. The young cat especially enjoys ripping around the house, and I reason that the physical activity is good for both of them. Even though old Tom just sits and watches the commotion, at least he is considerably entertained by their antics.

Charlé Thibodeau has been a passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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