Common name: Catnip
Scientific name: Nepeta cataria
Uses: Aromatic, culinary, decorative, and medicinal.Dried leaves add fragrance to potpourris. The leaves are also used in salads and tea. Fresh leaves can be rubbed on raw meat as a tenderizer or mixed with olive oil and seasonings for a marinade. Catnip is used to make light yellow dye. The dried leaves are used in cat toys. The plant can be grown as an ornamental in lightly shaded areas or in containers. It is said to have some medicinal qualities.
History: The genus Nepeta may be derived from the Roman town of Nepeti, where catnip was valued and cultivated long ago. The colonists brought catnip to America, and it was listed as a commercial crop in 1796 by an American geographer. It has since escaped into the landscape. Some believe the plant is named after its ability to lure and charm felines.
Description: This type of mint has a square stem. The bilabiate, spiked flowers are 1/4 to 1/2 inch long. They are white with purple to pink spots. The 2-to-3-inch leaves are ovate to cordate, opposite, and coarsely toothed. They are covered with soft, white fuzz. The leaf tops are gray-green, and the bottoms are white with hairs.
Hardiness: Hardy herbaceous perennial; hardiness zones 3 to 4.
Height: 12 to 36 inches
Width: varies due to spreading
Soil: average, sandy, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.4
Disease: None noted.
Cultivation: Plant seeds or transplant seedlings in full sun or partial shade, thinning to 12 inches apart. Cut back in autumn. Since catnip spreads rapidly, it is wise to give it space. Another species, N. mussunii, reaches 12 to 18 inches in height and does well as a border plant. Since N. cataria can reach 36 inches in height, it is best used as a border plant in taller plantings or as a background plant for shorter plantings.
Companion planting: Bees and butterflies are attracted to catnip, so plant it where pollination is needed.
Propagation: Seeds or cuttings in spring.
Flowering period: June to September
Garden notes: To prevent undesirable spreading, we grew our plants in plastic pots buried to the rim with the bottoms intact. The blooms were numerous and delicate.