Carol Eve Hyska of Farmington, a self-described Crazy Cat Lady, life-long gardener, and Advanced Master Gardener explains the lure of catnip, its uses, and how to harvest and store catnip.
Q: What exactly is catnip?
A: Catnip is an herb in the mint family that grows like a weed in the wild. It grows about three to four feet tall in a sunny area. The flowers open up around the 4th of July.
Q: How do you recognize catnip plants?
A: The leaves grow from the square-shaped stem in rows of two, which is typical of plants in the mint family. The leaves are jagged edged. Catnip shouldn’t be confused with Cat Mint because Cat Mint isn’t as pungent.
Q: What attracts cats to catnip?
A: Catnip has a chemical called nepetalactone which gives off the smell that entices cats, and it’s important to preserve that chemical when making toys for cats.
Q: What happens when a cat plays with catnip?
A: When a cat bites into catnip, the nepetalactone oil is released, and when cats suck on catnip, they make a catnip tea for themselves. Mothers used to give catnip tea to their children to calm them down. It’s comparable to chamomile.
Q: How do you harvest and preserve the oils and scent?
A: The most important thing is to preserve the nepetalactone, because as with any crushed dried herb, the essential oils and scent are released when crushed, and cats don’t find crushed catnip very attractive. Use whole and unbroken leaves and flowers in toys for best results.
Q: How do you harvest and dry catnip plants?
A: Harvest catnip plants after the 4th of July when the flowers have opened up. Cut plants near the base. Don’t remove the entire plant, because it’ll grow back after a few months. Stack whole plants into tall yard waste bags. Do not put catnip in plastic because it’ll get moldy. Leave the tops of the bags open and facing away from any source of light and air dry.
Q: How do you store dried catnip?
A: Cats like fresh catnip, but it can be frozen by putting it between layers of plastic wrap in a baggie to freeze. It’ll keep for a long time.
If you have any questions or wish to take the Master Gardener course, the courses are offered via Michigan State University Extensions in twenty Michigan counties. You may also call your county or city gardening hotline.
Carol began making, ‘Carol’s Catnip Creations’ about twenty years ago, and she used to sell them at craft shows. Now, she sells her toys at Carousel Cat Clinic as well as Backdoor Friends, which are both in Farmington Hills.
We’ve all seen the change in many of our cats from docile and laid back to playful, rollicking little imps. Give a cat a toy made from catnip or a catnip plant of her own and watch the party unfold! Cat reactions to catnip will be explained in part two of this article.