Catnip is hugely popular in this house, mostly because of the cats, but I like it too. It's so hardy, I pick sprigs from the base of the plant even in winter and bring them inside to the delight of the kitties. (I'm writing this with three cats and a small dog snuggled beside me). Back to catnip, it's easy to grow and flowers cheerily for much of the growing season. The herb will take over the garden if you let it, but the scent is appealing, and the plant, though kind of weedy, is pretty in full flower.The blossoms attract bees and beneficial insects and repel bad ones, so it makes a good companion plant. In the Shenandoah Valley, tea brewed with catnip is imbibed for congestion and to sooth the stomach, at least, among the country and mountain people. I like it mixed with mint leaves. (Image of catnip in our garden)
During the Middle Ages, the herb was used in the treatment of nervous complaints, for colds, to sooth upset stomachs, and as a sleep aid. Catnip was rubbed on meats before cooking (possibly to disguise the flavor if it had gone off) and the leaves were added to salad. Early colonists took catnip to the New World, and it spread from there.
In The Family Herbal, English botanist John Hill says, “Catmint (another name for catnip) is common about our hedges, but of very great virtues.” He recommends it, “Be gathered just when the flowers are opening, and dried. It is an excellent woman’s medicine; an infusion of it is good against hysteric complaints, vapours, and fits, and it moderately promotes the menses.”
In Colonial America: A tea brewed from the leaves was used to treat stomach ache and head colds. Catnip was also steeped in wine and imbibed that way. If a woman wanted to increase her fertility she might soak in a catnip sitz bath.
Our cats, particularly our Siamese tabby mix, Pavel, love catnip. He rolls in it and chews on the leaves. Even if Pavel is upstairs, he appears in seconds when I get out the catnip. I'm not sure why cats are so besotted by it, just that many are. Though not all. Our curmudgeonly tabby, Percy, doesn't care one way or the other. Our youngest kitties, Peaches and Cream, are also fans now. This past summer, daughter Elise and I gathered seeds of various plants to save, including catnip. We put them in an envelope and left it on the counter, only to discover the contents scattered and Pavel's mouth suspiciously covered with the leaves of catnip that had accompanied the seed gathering. He claimed to know nothing about it, with that innocence felines can conjure.
I've used references to many herbs in my stories, including catnip. With spring around the corner, it's an apt time to consider what herbs you might want to plant this year.
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