We’re busy developing and expanding our Phytotheca Plant Library, and in doing so we’ve learned a TON about edible and medicinal plants. We’ve also learned how overwhelming all of the choices and knowledge can get when planning your garden, menu, or next indoor growing adventure. So we will be featuring different plants here in our blog to ensure you don’t miss a thing!
[testimonial by=”Catwoman”]You’re catnip to a girl like me.[/testimonial]
This time around we’re gonna talk about Common Catnip. A member of the mint family, and more specifically a catmint, this herb is well known by pet owners. Since I am now living with a cute and rather crazy cat, I’ve been able to experience first-hand the effects of dried catnip on my feline roommate. She does truly act like a sort of drug addict when she’s playing with a toy her owner made that’s just a sock filled with dry catnip. I also remember my parents planting a catnip in our yard when I was growing up, then having to build a cage around it to prevent our pet from utterly destroying the plant by rolling on it, eating it, and generally beating it up.
So what’s the deal with catnip, and why does it make cats crazy? Well, first, it’s important to note that only about 70–80% of our domesticated friends are affected by this plant. For those cats, the reaction stems from a chemical known as nepetalactone that is found in the leaves and stems of the catnip plant. This chemical acts as an artificial pheromone for cats, triggering sensory neurons in their brains and causing the crazy ecstatic reaction. 
What about other species’ interactions with Nepeta cataria? Some studies have shown the potential insect-repelling qualities of essential oils from the herb. Its flowers will also draw in some beneficial pollinating insects like butterflies and bees. And catnip plants will attract predatory insects like lacewings, wasps, and flies that can help to keep your garden free of crop-damaging bugs like caterpillars and leafhoppers.  Cool, huh? Additionally, it is reportedly a deterrent to rats , maybe because they know that if they run into this plant, they’ll likely find a cat nearby!
Catnip can also be used as a flavoring in food or found in the mix of some herbal teas. It is observed to be an important element in folk and traditional medicines and as a home remedy for such maladies as wide-ranging as colds, asthma, and delayed menstruation. It’s even been reportedly used for hallucinogenic or psychedelic effects! Leaves are meant to be soothing and calming for anxiety disorders, and roots are said to be a mild stimulant. Applied topically, a poultice of the leaves was used to reduce swelling and inflammation. Over-consumption can cause illness or vomiting, so don’t try any of these uses at home before consulting with a medical expert! 
Finally, don’t be surprised if you hear our neighbors from across the pond calling this decorative and strongly scented garden plant catmint or catnep. The names differ, but the plant is the same. Catnip was introduced into North America from Europe, but now thrives here, even growing wild in some places without extra care from gardeners. So, if you think you’ve got a black thumb, catnip might be a good introduction to gardening for you!
Be sure to keep checking back in for more in our Featured Plant Series to quickly guide you through our favorites of the coolest, easiest-to-grow, or most interesting plant varieties we’ll be hand selecting for you.
The Scientist: How does Catnip Work?
A Natural Insect Attractant from Catnip. Agricultural Research Magazine. May/June 2007.
A Modern Herbal: Catmint by Maude Greive, 1931.
Catnip: It’s Uses and Effects, Past and Present by Jeff Grognet.