May 28, 2017

The Real Deal

Nepeta cataria - catnip | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Nepeta cataria – catnip | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

True catnip – the kind that makes the cat go crazy – is Nepeta cataria, a member of the mint family. A native of Europe and Asia, the perennial herb has naturalized around the globe and here in Maine is found in much of the state, except in Aroostook and Washington counties. It prefers full sun but can tolerate part shade, reaching up to 3 feet in height. The spikes of fragrant blossoms vary from white to purple to blue, sitting atop downy leaves that also have a fragrance. The plant thrives in dry soil and will not do well where it is wet, especially in winter. Catnip has long been used for medicinal and culinary reasons. Medicinally, it has been used as a tea to help reduce anxiety and soothe sore throats, while its use in food has been to take advantage of its minty flavor. Catnip also repels certain insects in the garden, including aphids and squash bugs.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.

In 2012, Glen began working to catalog the plants of Baxter State Park, which you can read about here and find out how to sponsor a plant of your own. Courtesy of a poll taken in 2012, Garden Maine is sponsoring this lovely plant.