OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312



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Nepeta cataria


Catnip in early sources


Description      Propagation       Cultivation        Harvest

Nepeta cataria Nepeta cataria takes its name from nepenthes, the Greek name for a potion that brings forgetfulness of trouble or grief, a sedative. Cataria means, simply, of cats. Nefte, nepte, and nepitamon are all derived from nepenthe. One of its Welsh names, mynt y gath, means mint of the darts.
Common names, modern Catnip, catswort, nepenthe, nepeta


Lifespan Perennial
Habit A mint, square stemmed, bushy if pinched back
Cold hardiness Z 3-9, not frost tender
Size 24-30" high x 24-30" wide

Catnip flower spikeFlower

Upright spikes of tiny white flowers, spotted with purplish pink

Catnip foliageFoliage

Silvery green to dark green, downy  leaves with toothed edges, 1" to 3" long, mint-like. Foliage is strongly scented.




Catnip is grown for cats, and also for tea.

Nepetalactone, an essential oil, is a chemical in catnip that mimics a cat pheromone, causing many cats (about 70% of all cats respond) to behave with a strange euphoria -- rolling, rubbing, purring, and sometimes becoming aggressive.

Catmint is the name of another member of the Nepeta family,
N. grandifloria.



By seed

Grows easily from seed (also from stem cuttings in summer, and from division in spring). However you proceed, be sure to protect young plants from cats.

Germination temperature

65-70 degrees

Germination time

7-10 days


Keep barely moist until seed germinates.


Light inhibits germination, so cover seed well and tamp down soil.




Prefers sandy, well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. Plants may get leggy and fall over if soil is too rich; this will also make plant less fragrant.


Drought tolerant


Full sun to part shade

Natural habitat

Waste ground, roadsides, ditches


Will self-seed and spread by subsoil runners (like other mints) with gay abandon where happy; to control roots, plant in a container. Because of tendency to spread, makes a good ground cover. For smaller, more manageable plant with milder fragrance, plant Nepeta mussinii.


Very healthy plant, only occasionally bothered by whiteflies, spider mites


Cats will destroy unprotected plants by rolling, chewing, etc.

Companion planting

Said to repel cabbage moths, aphis (including peach aphis), flea beetles, cucumber beetles, squash bug. Bees like it.


Catnip tea is a mild soporific -- that is, it makes you sleepy; rubbing the leaves on your skin will repel mosquitoes and flies.



Season to bloom


Seed collection

After flowering, watch for seed formation; gather seed just before it is totally dry. Spread seed in a small saucer and let dry on sunny window sill (where cats can't get at it) for a few days, then store in paper envelope, labeled with name and date gathered. Seed is viable for about 5 years.


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F.D. Drewitt


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