Why, you might ask, does Nepata cataria, a.k.a., catnip, give so many cats so much pleasure? Catnip, which is part of the mint family, has a chemical called nepetalactone that gives off a scent that entices cats. The plant grows like a weed in the wild and cat grow to heights of three to four feet in sunny spots. The leaves are jagged-edged and grow in twos from a square-shaped stem. Although this is typical of plants in the mint family, catnip shouldn’t be confused with catmint, as the latter isn’t as pungent.
Cats who are attracted to its properties bite into the plant, releasing nepetalactone oil. Those who like sucking on catnip make a tea for themselves. As a matter of fact, mothers of the un-furry sort used to make catnip tea for their children to calm them because it is similar to chamomile.
If you wish to make homemade catnip toys for your cats, you might like to follow the advice of Oakland County, MI Advanced Master Gardener, Carol Eve Hyska. She says the most important thing is to preserve the nepetalactone by keeping leaves whole because, as with any crushed and dried herb, essential oils and the scent are quickly released. Cats find whole and unbroken leaves to be the most attractive.
Ms. Hyska’s technique for harvesting and drying catnip is as follows:
- Harvest catnip plants after the 4th of July because that’s when the flowers have opened. Don’t remove the entire plant because it’ll re-grow after a few months.
- Stack whole plants in tall paper yard waste bags. Don’t use plastic bags because the catnip will get moldy.
- Leave the tops of bags open and facing away from any sources of light to air dry the catnip.
- Catnip may be stored in the freezer by placing it between layers of plastic wrap in a plastic bag with a good seal.