Ah, catnip, recreational drugs for your kitty. This perennial herb causes most, but not all, members of the feline persuasion to enter a state of unbridled ecstasy, complete with half-lidded eyes and copious drooling.
Assuming that you don't object to your cat doing something that you could be arrested for doing yourself, you will want to provide kitty with only the best in recreational drugs. This means that you will have to grow it yourself or convince a green-thumbed friend to help out. The dry catnip available in pet stores is a pale imitation of the real, fresh item and does not even belong in the same category as what you will preserve for kitty's winter enjoyment.
THE NATURE OF CATNIP
Catnip is a perennial herb, which means it will come back every year from a single planting. It will also self-seed any where the wind blows, so you will have lots to share with friends as the years go by. This is an attractive plant, growing to three feet or more and producing bluish flowers in mid-summer. The leaves are light green, slightly furry and have an attractive scalloped edge. As with all members of the mint family, the stems are square and hollow.
You should not have any trouble finding seeds or pots of catnip at your local garden center. It is also possible to get from mail order nurseries. Be sure that you do not buy an ornamental catnip by mistake. There are now at least four different types of "catnip" grown as ornamentals. They will not get kitty high or even slightly tipsy. You want common catnip, Nepenta Cataria.
As with most herbs, full sun, adequate moisture, and reasonable soil are all that is needed. Catnip will grow happily in patio pots or as a part of the vegetable or flower garden. Nearly pest-free, the worst damage usually comes from outside cats that discover the plants before they get well established. If your pet is allowed outdoors, by all means show him the plants. After the initial delight wears off, they usually leave the plants alone to grow strong and tall. Catnip can survive long periods of drought once it is growing well. In fact, this often intensifies the aroma by concentrating the essential elements that kitty loves.
HARVEST AND STORAGE
You can begin harvesting catnip as soon as the stems get to about one foot tall, and continue cutting all summer. In mild climates, the plant will maintain a low rosette of leaves and can be picked through the winter. During the summer, you can cut a few sprigs of fresh catnip for kitty whenever you want to give him a treat. Don't be alarmed if kitty eats all the leaves.
Cut the stems when the leaves are dry of morning dew and hang upside down in an airy, shaded place to cure. When completely dried and crunchy, crumble the leaves into a paper bag and discard the stems. Store in plastic bags under lock and key. It has been my experience that many cats are able to open cupboards and remove bags of catnip. A few well aimed bites and the bag is shredded, the catnip is everywhere, and you have a wonderful mess to sweep up. Kitty will not be in any shape to assist in this cleaning effort.
USES FOR DRIED CATNIP
Apart from the simplest, placing a small quantity on the floor for kitty to play in, there are a few other, less messy, ways to allow your cat to enjoy this treat.
Pom-poms made of brightly colored fluff can be purchased in craft stores. Get the larger ones and keep a few in with the dried catnip. These are great toys for kitty.
Depending on how handy you are with needle and thread, you can make small bags of felt or fabric and fill them with the dried herb. For the more ambitious, rabbit pelts can be cut and sewed into mousie shapes and filled with catnip. Mice can even be crocheted or knitted and filled for kitty to play with.
However you decide to package the dried catnip, it is a good idea to keep a few toys in the bag as replacements. When kitty tires of a toy, replace it in the bag with the dried herb for re-charging and pull out a fresh one. In this way, your pet will always have a fun and intoxicating toy to play with.
This can be a soothing beverage for cat owners to enjoy. It is reputed to exert a calming influence on frazzled human nerves and help with upset tummies. If you enjoy the fragrance of the plant you will probably like the tea also. Catnip tea does not affect humans the same way as it does cats. While your cat is bouncing off the walls or drooling on your best carpet after a short indulgence, you will not even have a caffeine buzz.
About the Author A famous (infamous, depending on your point of view) Dragon, who sculpts in various media (see at www.artdump.com), makes cheese, soap, yarn, and trouble at the drop of a scale. The Dragon Weyr boasts extensive gardens of herbs, flowers, and veggies. This dragon lives with lots of small, furry dragons, inexplicably called cats by non-draconic types, and has a distressing tendency to flame fools when pressed to the Weyr wall.