Catnip: Nepeta cataria

It’s catnip season. The juicy, hollow green stalks mark this plant as one of the mint family. The one-to-two-foot tall plants with their slightly fuzzy leaves are growing in vacant lots and neglected corners all over Riverwest. I picked an armful and brought it home for drying, only to be tackled by two cats at the door, the harvest immediately attacked, crushed, torn to pieces and rolled on, and that was that. I thought the two furry bodies in the classic “paws up” position were comatose, but claws flailed whenever I attempted to salvage even a leaf or two for tea. Oh, well. There’s lots more where that came from. If you can figure out how to keep your cats away from it, catnip is one of the easiest herbs to preserve. Just pick five or six stalks, tie them together in a bunch, and hang them upside down. Once the leaves get crunchy and the stalks pretty much dry out, crumble the whole plant into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. You’ll be ready with an aromatic kitty treat in the depths of January, when your pets are sulking, sure that if you’d just stop being so dense you could figure out which door opened into “June.” Catnip is also a main component in a calming, soothing tea. In pre-Elizabethan times, the afternoon tea the English enjoyed was usually catnip. It can be used to promote sleep and calms an upset stomach. In “Peter Rabbit,” Beatrix Potter’s story, Peter had to drink a “tummy tea” of fennel, catnip, and chamomile after he ate too much in Mr. McGregor’s garden. You can buy dried catnip for making tea, or just steal a spoonful from kitty’s winter stash. You can also make tea from fresh catnip. Crush a couple of spoonfuls of dried or fresh catnip leaves into a jar or teapot, add boiling water, and steep for about five minutes. Strain, add honey or lemon to taste, and you’ve got the makings for an English “spot of tea in the garden!” Note: Catnip tea can be consumed up to three times per day. Because it can induce uterine cramps to bring on menstruation, catnip tea should be avoided by pregnant women. If you have any medical conditions, check with your doctor before you consume this or any other herbal teas or remedies. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003