Catnip: What it Is, How We Use It

It grows wild all over the Okanagan. It is known to make cats go crazy. It can be smoked like cannabis but is not related even remotely, nor has any kind of intoxicating result. This plant actually belongs to the mint family! Whenever we’ve tried to give this plant to our cat, he’s a) acted like it’s an intruder and to be treated warily, and b) the one time he couldn’t get away from it, he got worried and scared that he couldn’t seem to control himself. This plant has been known to sedate felines as well.  Our cat’s reaction can affect up to 50% of most cats out there who sniff or inhale catnip.  If they eat it, there is a greater chance of it sedating them.

I am speaking of Catnip. In many ways it has the same properties of other members of the mint family. It can soothe your gastro-intestinal system, is anti-inflammatory, calms nerves, etc. Because of it’s astringent nature, it isn’t recommended for pregnant women or nursing mothers.

Unlike other members of the mint family, catnip actually has a somewhat bitter flavour. Depending on the tea blend we are making, one way we tackle the bitterness is by adding Juniper berries. If in the right mix, the combination of Juniper and Catnip produces a more pleasant flavour more akin to the more well-known members of the mint family.

History tells us that in Ancient Rome and later on into Medieval times, Catnip was grown in kitchen gardens as a salad herb and chopped fresh into salads with other greens. Due to its strong flavour, there are references to it having been used as a meat rub and seasoning.

An old Dutch recipe from the 1600’s was found to contain a line referencing Catnip in a list of suggested herbs. I have contacted the blog article author to see if it’s possible to locate the original recipe.

The Monterey Bay Spice Company has a very nice breakdown of the plant’s uses, probably being the only source so far that claims the herb has a mild flavour. According to research they have done on the plant, it became a regular in kitchen gardens across England by 1265. Monterey Bay and others say that prior to the discovery of Chinese teas, Catnip was the hot drink infusion of choice during pre-Elizabethan England. Catnip began to actually be farmed in the US by 1796.

Today, people still recommend using Catnip in soups, stews, salads, and as a seasoning for meat.

Catnip has been found to have the following nutritional constituents: Vitamin C, A, B (1,2,3,5,6,9,12) and Maganese along with others less highly represented. As a tea, these do not show up in any great concentration to be noted by nutritional calculators.

A commenter on this article says the following:

Gene MARCH 24, 2019 AT 11:07 PM
I cut the leaves up with scissors in my omelet for breakfast, along with dandelions, plantains, parsley, and chickweed. Add a few sage leaves, also cut up with scissors, okra, cauliflower, diced broccoli, chopped onion, a few grapes and two eggs, makes a wonderful omelet. Eat on soft tortillas like a taco. Keep you going until suppertime.

Here are just a few of the ways that people today are using Catnip:

Cookie Recipe (For Humans)

Vegetable Marinade Recipe

Wild Salad

Catnip Ice Cream (For Humans)

One of my favourite bedtime teas in the past from the grocery store, has been a ginger/mint/fennel combination. A wildcrafted version of such a tea would be Pineapple Weed/Field Mint or Catnip-Juniper/Nettle. We don’t offer this blend for sale because of how hard it is to find decent patches of Pineapple Weed in the area. We find very stubby plants, and maybe the odd one that managed to reach up to 8″ tall, but almost always along roadsides, and not in great numbers. Summer of 2018, we weren’t able to harvest any field mint either, as the area it was growing in had suffered at the pressure of large tire tracks through the area. Perhaps if we find more, healthier patches of Pineapple Weed, we will be able to offer a Catnip-Juniper version of this tea in the future.

Links for further research:

University of Maryland Extension, Home & Garden Information Center

Encyclopedia Britannica

Spices and Herbs, Lore & Cookery by Elizabeth S. Hayes, Pg 116, Courier Corp, C1980

Rodale’s 21st-Century Herbal: A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature’s Most Powerful Plants, Michael Balick, Pg 214 Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale, CApr. 29, 2014
By Michael Balick

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