Friday, January 30, 2009

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) 猫薄荷

Nepeta cataria (Catnip / Catmint) is a 50–100 cm tall herb resembling mint in appearance, with greyish-green leaves; the flowers are white, finely spotted with purple. It has been introduced to many countries, including the United States. The name was derive from their famed effect on cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors, typically resulting in a temporarily induced euphoric state. Cat loves it!

How to grow
To start a crop of catnip plants with seeds, sow directly into the ground when the soil is warm; it is easily cultivated in any garden soil, with little care, as the plant does not require the moisture that most mint plants need. Plants should be grown from seed sown where they are going to stand. Bruised or recently transplanted plants are likely to be eaten by cats unless protected. The seed should be sown very thinly in rows 20 inches apart and the seedlings thinned out to 20 inches apart in the rows. It requires almost no care except occasional weeding. A bed will last several years. It can also be propagated by division of the roots in spring. Catnip plants can be grown in planting zones 3-9.

The herb is harvested just before flowering in middle to late summer on a dry sunny day and in late morning when all dew is gone. Drying should be done carefully. The leaves are stripped from the stems and dried as quickly as possible with good ventilation out of direct sunlight, or in an oven at 150 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid losing much volatile oil.

Catnip plants are not just for cats: like so many herbs, they also have culinary and medicinal uses, whether used fresh or dried. Tea made from the leaves and flowers of this herbaceous perennial has traditionally been imbibed to relieve coughs, for instance. The leaves and shoots can be used as ingredients in sauces and soups. The oil extracted from catnip plants is even used in natural mosquito repellents. Store dried leaves and flowers in freezer bags to preserve the potency of the oil.

No comments: