As cat owners, we are all familiar with how obsessed our whiskered friends are with catnip. Just a whiff of this magical herb is often enough to make a cat go whacky! The plant is a good stress reliever for cats, too. So, why not grow and preserve your own catnip treats? Your furry friend will surely thank you!
If you are looking for planting tips, as well as advice on how to store catnip properly, you are on the right page. Read below to learn more about how to grow your own catnip and make it last longer in your pantry!
What is catnip?
Scientifically named Nepeta cataria, catnip or catmint is an herb that belongs to the mint family. The plant is primarily known for its calming and soothing effects on both domesticated and wild cats, thanks to its active ingredient, nepetalactone. One can easily distinguish a catnip plant through its heart-shaped leaves and grayish-green color.
Catnip has concentrated amounts of nepetalactone around its stems, seeds, and leaves. So when these parts rupture (through breaking or chewing), the chemical is released and activated immediately. That is why cats experience the effects right away, the moment they sniff or chew the plant’s fragile leaves. Their “high” behaviors might include rubbing, rolling in the plant, licking, chewing, and kicking. Depending on the cat’s temperament, some might also react by jumping around, drooling, or with sudden hyperactivity.
But how does catnip have this effect on a cat’s behavior? First of all, the oil molecules released by the plant’s leaves enter the cat’s sensitive nasal cavity and bind to their sensory receptors. The active ingredient, nepetalactone, then starts activating the “happy” receptors in the cat’s brain. That is why cats go crazy whenever they get a dose of this potent herb. Catnip has also been known to provide instant relief for cats struggling with certain behavioral issues like anxiety.
The effects of catnip are short-lived, though; most cats will only enjoy the plant for about ten to 15 minutes. Once they have had enough, they will no longer respond to the scent and will walk away. It might take another few hours before they can experience ecstasy again.
Tips for growing catnip outdoors
Homegrown catnip is, of course, fresher than any you will buy at a store. So, why not grow your own catnip outdoors and provide your fur-kid with the most potent herbs?
Catnip is relatively easy to grow. If you live in an area that falls into hardiness zones 3a to 9b, then growing catnip in your backyard will be a breeze.
Catnip can grow about three to four feet tall, producing lovely spikes of white or lavender blooms. If you plant it in your garden, this herb can also attract popular pollinators like butterflies and bees.
Simply plant your catnip once the danger of frost is over. Make sure that the plants are placed 18 to 24 inches apart in well-draining soil. Remember that catnip can grow very tall, so providing them with enough space will help you manage each plant easily. You can also cut the plants back from time to time to keep their size under control.
Catnip does not need a lot of fertilizer, and you can plant it directly in the ground or in pots. Just make sure to avoid overwatering, which can potentially kill your plant. And, most importantly, enclose your plant with a wire fence or dried bamboo stalks to protect it from stray cats and your own fur-kids.
Tips for growing catnip indoors
Growing catnip indoors is also possible if you live in an apartment and do not have a garden. Use well-draining soil and a pot with drainage holes, and make sure that the herbs are located in a sunny spot in your home, such as near a window. If your house does not have such a perfect spot, you could consider purchasing an LED grow light.
And, like those planted outdoors, it is also important to protect your indoor catnip plants. Otherwise, the strong scent of the plants will likely attract your curious cat, who will chew it down to the roots. You do not want your kitty to consume the plant before it has fully grown! Perhaps place the plant in a spare room where Fluffy has no access, or use barriers or an enclosure to keep the plant out of your kitty’s reach.
The best time to harvest catnip
While catnip can be harvested and given to your cat at any time, it is highly recommended to harvest it when it starts to bloom. This growth stage makes the plant highly potent. You can pick it fresh and give it directly to your cat to play with, or dry their leaves and store them in an airtight jar for later use.
How to store catnip
If you want your catnip to last longer, here is what you need to do.
First, consider cutting small branches off the plant instead of just leaves, so that it can regrow a full stalk more easily. Also make sure to harvest in the afternoon, as the morning dew encourages the growth of mold.
The next step is the drying process. There are many ways to do this: you can either spread the sprigs on a drying rack or tie the stems in bunches and hang them upside-down. When the leaves begin to crackle when you touch them, it is a sure sign that the catnip has dried out completely. Pluck the leaves and crush them; do not include the stems. Then place the crushed leaves in a clean, airtight container.
Dried catnip will usually last for several months or even years, as long as it is kept in a cool, dry place. We recommend using mason jars for easy storage (or if you are planning to give the catnip as gifts to your friends), but you can use zip-lock bags too, depending on your preference.
How long is catnip potent for?
As mentioned, catnip can make your furry friend euphoric for about ten to 15 minutes, but the longevity might depend on the freshness of the herb. The longer you store the catnip, the less its potency will be over time. Hence, fresh catnip generally offers the best results for your pet. So, if you have homegrown catnip, your cat is sure to love it the best!
Does catnip ever expire?
Dried catnip lasts, on average, about six months. But, depending on how you store it and how often you open the container, this timeframe might extend a bit longer. For example, if you rarely open a jar of catnip and it has been stored in ideal conditions, then it might last for up to two years.
Remember that catnip is a very potent herb; you only need a small amount of crushed leaves for your cat to experience its efficacy. Hence, a jar of catnip will likely last a very long time.
Just keep in mind that the enemies of dried herbs are UV rays, oxygen, moisture, and warmth. That is why you should store your catnip in an air-tight container, in a cool, dry place (and of course, away from your cat’s reach).
Just like any dried kitchen herb, dried catnip can last longer provided it is properly stored in a sealed container. Just keep it away from moisture, sunlight, and humidity, and it should stay fresh for several months. Make sure that your jars of catnip are stored in a cabinet to which Fluffy has no access. By doing so, you can have a ready supply of fresh catnip any time your feline friend needs a dose of ecstasy!
Image: istockphoto.com / Iryna Imago