If you want to make bees, hummingbirds and cats happy, plant some catnip – Nepeta cataria. This perennial member of the mint family has been cultivated for centuries, having both culinary and medicinal uses.
The English used the dried herb, mixed with sage and thyme, as a meat rub. Before China tea was widely available, people brewed up a handful of this pungent herb. For humans, it makes a calming, sleep-inducing tea.
It’s quite another matter for kitties, however.
Its leaves contain a chemical called nepetalactone, which induces a psychosexual reaction; it has both a euphoric and an aphrodisiac effect. Some felines cannot resist it, while others completely ignore it. It seems that susceptibility is genetic.
If you don’t want cats stampeding your garden, grow it from seed where it will be relatively undisturbed. Transplanting from pots inevitably results in some crushed leaves. This releases the chemical and sends out the feline equivalent of the Bat Signal to every catnip-loving moggy in your ZIP code.
Its close botanical relation, Nepeta mussinii, or catmint, has lavender flowers and is a weed-smothering sun ornamental. Each bloom sports a tiny cat paw print. Walker’s Low is my favorite variety. Its prolific blooms are a medium shade of purple that seems to glow.
If you want to make catnip toys, gather and dry the stems at summer’s end. Crush the dried leaves, then sew into small pillows.
The folks at the University of Iowa have proven that it makes a mosquito repellant 10 times more effective than DEET. You can make it yourself:
2 cups catnip, washed
2 cups almond oil
Bruise catnip, pack into a clean jar, cover with oil and set in a cool, dark place. Shake jar lightly each day; push leaves under oil to prevent mold. After two weeks, strain through cheesecloth into a clean jar. Seal and refrigerate for up to eight months.
In the language of flowers, it says courage and happiness. It is meant to attract good spirits and good luck.
If you hold some in your hand until it becomes warm, then hold another person’s hand, that person will be your friend – but only for as long as you keep the charmed nepeta that they touched.
In the garden, it deters flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants and weevils. You can also steep some in water to make an insect-repelling spray.
Give your garden the gift of catnip. Only do make sure to spay or neuter your feline friends first.
– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have plant lore to share? Email email@example.com.