C is for Catnip

I grew up the youngest of four children in a pretty-typical 1970s’ home: game nights, fires and popcorn, arguing, experimenting, etc. So the time my parents found a bong made out of a Flex shampoo bottle (hidden in the croquet set in the garage), they used it as a teaching moment. But the time my mom found a baggie of pot hidden in plain sight in the pantry, she was pissed. It took her several months before she remembered that the baggie was hers, and it was full of catnip. Years later, she was sure a skunk sprayed in her car…

Catnip is a perennial herb in mild climates. (Herbs are classified into three groups: annual, biennial, and perennial). I love planting herbs because not only are they easy to germinate and keep alive, but they are also beautiful and functional. But most importantly, they flower and the bees love them. I can taste hints of herbs in our honey–mostly rosemary. Herbs can be used fresh or dried. The possibilities are endless. But so are the plants if they are invasive. And catnip is invasive as it’s in the mint family. My one word of advice on catnip and plants in the mint family: containmint (sic).

I wish I could roll in and smell a plant and have it mimic happy pheromones!  The essential oil in catnip, nepetalactone, is responsible for this reaction. When eaten, the effect is more of a sleepy mellow for cats. However, it turns out that a sensitivity to the nepetalactone is an inherited trait, and only about half of all cats have a reaction to it. You better be sure that your cat is in that 50%, or you’ll have neighbors showing up!

But the reality is this: do you really want cats in your garden? I don’t.

I want my garden to be a haven for wildlife. Introducing a plant that attracts cats puts the birds in peril. More than that, once the cats show up they start using your raised beds for a toilet. Nothing is worse that digging in the dirt and pulling up a cat turd, except perhaps your dog eating the cat turd and kissing you in gratitude.

Catnip is not just for cats. It’s been grown in medicinal gardens for centuries for its sedative effect on humans. Made into a tea, catnip has calming properties similar to chamomile. Concentrated nepetalactone is also an excellent mosquito repellent, 10 times more powerful than DEET, the most widely used chemical repellent. The only hitch is that it only lasts a few hours. 

Makes me wonder if a field of catnip with bees boxes nearby would produce a honey that keeps mosquitos away. It’d be a pretty terrific marketing idea regardless!

About master kindergardener

Santa Clara County Master Gardener since 2007, Mom since 2009, Gardener since birth.
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One Response to C is for Catnip

  1. Aimee says:

    Laughing out loud at that first paragraph! I vaguely recall that “pot” in the pantry story. And I definitely remember hearing about the shampoo bottle.

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