Catnip

Nepeta cataria L.

Other common names: Cataria, catmint, catwort, catrup, field mint. Habitat and range: Catnip, a common weed naturalized from Europe, occurs in rather dry soil in waste places and cultivated land from Canada to Minnesota and south to Virginia and Arkansas.

Description: The fine white hairs on the stems of this plant give it a somewhat whitish appearance. Catnip reaches about 2 to 3 feet in height, with erect, square, and branched stems. It is a perennial belonging to the mint family (Menthaceae).

The opposite leaves are heart shaped or oblong, with a pointed apex, the upper surface green, the lower grayish green with fine white hairs, the margins finely scalloped and 1 to 21/2 inches in length.

About June to September the many-flowered, rather thick spikes are produced at the ends of the stem and branches. The whitish flowers, dotted with purple, are two lipped, the upper lip notched or two cleft, the lower one with three lobea, the middle lobe broadest and sometimes two cleft.

Collection, prices, and uses: The leaves and flowering tops, which have a strong odor and a bitter taste, are collected when the plant is in flower and are carefully dried. The coarser stems and branches should be rejected. Catnip was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1840 to 1880. The price ranges from 3 to 5 cents a pound.

Catnip is used as a mild stimulant and tonic and as an emmenagogue. It also has a quieting effect on the nervous system.


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