Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Catnip: Not Just For Felines Anymore

Are you in love with your cats? Do you want to give them a special treat? Try growing some catnip for them! There are variations of catnip these days, so you can grow it in almost any garden and use it for many reasons, including human consumption! Remember that catnip is a close cousin to the mint plant, so it is perfectly safe for people to eat.

The plant is called catnip, as has been called some variation of it since at least the thirteenth century, because the leaves emulate the smell of cat pheromones. These hormones are related to a cat's sex drive and are the reason that your little kitty goes nuts for catnip. Still, the leaves are great for other uses as well.

You can use catnip to make a tea for yourself if you are suffering from a cold or flu. You will need to steep one teaspoon of catnip into a cup of boiling water. If you are new to making teas, steeping simply means boiling the water and adding the leaves, which you will then remove. (Some people do not remove them but do not drink them.) Add in the juice from a slice of lemon, and you are ready to go.

If you want to make a little treat for your kitty, mix a handful of rose petals with a handful of catnip. Sew a tiny little satin bag with a string on the end and give it to your cat. There will be no end to the kinds of enjoyment you can get out of watching your cat have fun with the catnip toys you make.

You (and your cat) can try candied catnip leaves. You will need to mix together an egg white with a tablespoon of lemon. Dip a leaf in the lemon and then dip it into sugar. Allow it to harden and then refrigerate for two hours before eating.

Catnip is an easy plant to grow. As a perennial, it will continue to come up after you have the first successful year. The leaves to this tree are soft and fuzzy. They often appear heart-shaped and have serrated edges. Although few people know this, catnip actually grows wild throughout the United States. The early colonists brought it to this country, and they planted it in their gardens. Because catnip is such an easy grower, however, it left their gardens and propagated on its own. There are more than 200 species of catnip throughout the world with about 20 of them growing in America.

The first year you have your catnip plants, they will grow to about a foot tall. Within two more growing seasons, the plants should reach their full height of about 2 1/2 to 3 feet. Then they will be excellent for you to grow year after year. The plants will come up quickly after the last freeze, and they will bloom through the summer. You should be able to get several harvests from them each year.

Catnip plants are attractive to a lot of insects, however, and people should be aware of that. Few of the insects will attack the catnip itself. Some of the bugs are helpful, but others will attack some of the garden's other plants. Hummingbirds are known to light on catnip blossoms, which range in a wide variety of colors, throughout the summer months.

The biggest danger to catnip plants is the cat him or herself. There really is no good way to keep cats from the plants, but you can try caging the plants in. The cats will be happy to harvest for you, however, so watch out. There is no stop the felines when the catnip blossoms are in full bloom.

The catnip plant is an interesting one. There are several different varieties you can try, and you can even try catmint, which is a mixture of the mint plant and the catnip plant. These choices make excellent additions to your garden. Your cat will love the tasty treat instead of being subjected to dry cat food or even dried catnip all the time. After all, if you are enjoying freshly grown herbs, your cat should get the pleasure, too!

By Julia Mercer

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