Catnip is a plant that thrives in partial shade. However, it needs at least 6 hours of direct sun per day and can also do well in full sun. You may need to ?test? out your garden position to make sure the sun is not too direct or hot. This herb will thrive and grow the bushiest when planted in moist, well drained, moderately enriched soils. However, it is somewhat drought tolerant and will grow well in dry sandy soil, as long as water is supplied in hot periods. The combination of humid, wet conditions does not work well for catnip, so tropical regions may not be suitable. If you pinch out the flower buds then it will grow bushier. Pruning may also help if the plant gets too big or straggly for your personal liking.
Catnip has tiny seeds and self-sows very easily. It will reappear each year, if you are happy to let the seeds disperse naturally. You may also start seeds in seed trays, ready for planting out each year as soon as the weather begins to warm in early spring. Mature clumps can be successfully divided. Cuttings may also be used for propagation, with young fresh shoots sending out roots very quickly in about 10 days. Catnip may be grown in pots where frost or lack of space is an issue.
The fresh leaves can be harvested at any time, although the young leaves picked before flowering are milder to taste. To dry, collect complete stems, including the flowers by cutting close to the ground. Hang them upside down in the shade. Once they are dry, strip off the leaves and place them in an airtight jar and keep in a dark place.
Catnip is an herbaceous perennial from the mint family, growing from 90cm to 1.4 meters tall. The square shaped stems are straight with green, triangular to ovate leaves. The gently fragrant leaves have scalloped edges and could be described as ?coarse?, with grey-white hairs on the underside. In spring or summer, the long blooming flowers grow on spikes and are white with purple spots. The flowers are small, but put on a delicate, lightly fragrant show.
Traditionally catnip was used for respiratory conditions and used at the first sign of cold and flu. The relaxant effect is useful for easing tension headaches, digestive problems and menstrual cramps. There is suggestion it was used as a tincture to rub on arthritic joints. Catnip may also have a slight diuretic effect and is best avoided if pregnant. Generally, the herb has a mild effect and has potential for calming, sleep inducing and anxiety reducing effects.
Catnip also has an antiseptic use for skin problems and the tannins speed skin healing for small wounds, cuts, insect bites and inflammation. An eye wash for relieving inflammation may be prepared and used several times a day. The Native Americans from the Ozark and Appalachian Mountain regions used to mash fresh leaves and apply it directly to the mouth and gums, or sore teeth, to bring effective pain relief. Fresh leaves apparently worked almost immediately, while dried leaves took longer. Modern usage would entail using cotton wool to hold the leaves pressed against the offending part of the mouth.
The active ingredients are released by steam distillation. To make an eye wash, use 5 cups of hot water to 5 teaspoons of leaves, steep 50 minutes and then cool and refrigerate in a sealed glass jar. For a tea infusion use 250mls of hot water, add 1-3 teaspoons of leaves and steep for 20 minutes until lukewarm. Catnip is often mixed with honey and elderflower.