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Nepeta cataria

  • Name also: Catswort, Catmint
  • Family: Mint Family – Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 20–100 cm (10–40 in.). Stem branched, 4-edged, densely woolly, greyish green. Lemony herb-like scent.
  • Flower: Corolla irregular (zygomorphic), dirty white with red spots, 7–10 mm (0.28–0.4 in.) long, fused, long-tubed, bilabiate. Upper lip 2-lobed, short, flat; lower lip 3-lobed, central lobe bigger than lateral lobes. Calyx oval-cylindrical, slightly curved, 5-lobed, 15-veined, greyish green. Stamens 4, of which 2 long and 2 short. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Inflorescence spiked; a dense whorl.
  • Leaves: Opposite, long-stemmed. Blade cordate–ovate, with tapering tips, hairy, large-toothed. inflorescence’s lowest subtending bracts similar to stem leaves, upper ones small, narrow.
  • Fruit: 4-parted schizocarp.
  • Habitat: Yards, gardens, waste ground, roadsides, ruins, loading areas. Left over from old gardens and an established alien.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Catnip’s scent is very attractive to night and day butterflies, and to bees too. Very particularly, however, it is irresistible to cats – even the species’ scientific name cataria comes from the Latin word catus, meaning ‘cat’. Rats and mice on the other hand are said to be repelled by it. The plant is indigenous to Asia Minor. In Finland it grows in the wild on the outskirts of inhabited areas and among ruins, a throwback to a time when it was cultivated as a medicinal herb, and it can be found as a casual alien that grows from seed around loading areas.

Catnip’s flowering stem and all the aerial parts were used in bygone days as a generally calming preparation that promoted digestion. It was also used to treat, wounds, aches, and women’s problems. Historically it had many more uses: executioners were advised to chew the root to strengthen their nerves to do their duty wee, and hippies experimented with it so find out if it had hallucinogenic properties. Nowadays catnip is mainly grown for pets, whose reaction to the plant is always the complete opposite of a person’s: it will make a house cat and many feral cats incredibly excited. Not all cats are susceptible to catnip however.

Giant Catmint & Faassen’s Catnip

Nepeta grandiflora & Nepeta x faassenii

Apart from catnip, other leftovers from cultivation include giant catmint, whose flowers are usually blue or purple. The most popular however is faassen’s catnip, a violet-flowered ornamental that began life as a hybrid, which doesn’t however usually go wild as it is sterile.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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