Catmint (Mentha spicata) is a flowering plant native to Mexico, Central America and South America. It is commonly known as catnip or Mentha speciosa. It grows up to 20 feet tall with white flowers that are followed by yellow berries. These plants have been used medicinally for centuries. They were traditionally chewed on the soles of the feet for their sedative properties and they could be smoked to relieve muscle aches and pains. Today, they are grown commercially as ornamental plants and used for their medicinal qualities.
In addition to its use in traditional medicine, catmint is one of the most popular houseplants in the United States. It’s popularity stems from its ability to make indoor décor look more attractive. While it may not be able to compete with some of the other houseplants out there like roses or hydrangeas, it will certainly add a bit of color and interest to your home!
There are several types of catmints available today. Some varieties grow well indoors while others thrive outdoors. The following list includes the most common catmint species found in North America and how best to care for them.
Cattail Catmint ( M. cattleyeri ) – Cattail catmint is a very easy plant to grow and maintain. It prefers moist soil but can tolerate dryer conditions if it gets enough water during dry spells. It can reach up to five feet tall and bloom from midsummer to early fall. This plant does spread fairly quickly if it is in moist soil but can be easily controlled by cutting it back to the ground in late fall or early spring.
It prefers partial sunlight but will grow in full sun provided it has enough water.
Common Catmint ( M. cataria ) – Common catmint grows two to three feet tall and blooms from midsummer to early fall. This plant propagates quickly through its creeping roots and can be invasive. It prefers full sun but will also grow in partial shade. It grows best in average garden soil that is kept on the moist side.
It can be cut back in late fall or early spring to control its growth.
It is easily grown from seed and will start to bloom in about three months. It has a natural resistance to disease but may succumb to fungal infections if the soil is too wet.
Variegated Catmint ( M. quadrivalvis var. citrior) – Variegated catmint is a hybrid plant that was created by cross-breeding common catmint with spike lavender. It grows one to two feet tall and has flowers that bloom from midsummer to late fall. It thrives in well-drained soil that is kept on the dry side.
It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. This plant will not grow in wet soil.
Catmints make great additions to any garden. They work well as ground cover, in containers or along the border of a walkway. Their sweet scent makes them a favorite of both humans and insects. Their medicinal qualities make them an asset to any home medical kit. Beyond just giving a nice visual or olfactory pleasure, catmints are great for your health!
Catmints are also known as: field balm, cate, catmint, catnep, catnip, cutwort, feverwort, golden minze, nepite, nicotiana, songinikon, spignel and taubmanschaller.
Roterdamer catmint is a variety of catmint that was bred specifically for its oil content. It has large flowers that contain a high amount of oil, making it ideal for use in perfumes and aromatherapy oils.
It is easy to grow from seed and will grow quickly, reaching a height of about two feet. It will grow in any type of soil and has no serious disease or pest problems. It can be cut back to the ground in late fall or early spring to promote new growth.
Catnip tea can help relieve symptoms of colds and upper respiratory infections such as a runny nose, sore throat, cough and congestion. It can also help relieve stomach cramps, menstrual cramps, colic, headaches, nervousness and restlessness.
To make catnip tea, pour a cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried catnip and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the plant material and sweeten to taste. Catnip tea should be drunk three times a day for maximum effect.
A tincture is an alcohol extract of catnip that can be taken orally or used externally. To make catnip tincture, fill a clean glass container (such as a jar or bottle) with dried catnip. Cover the plant material with 70 percent alcohol (you can use a high-proof vodka). Cap the container and shake it vigorously for two minutes. Store the container in a cool, dark place for at least one week.
Shake it two to three times per day. After one week, strain out the plant material using a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Store the tincture in a clean container away from heat or light.
A compress is used topically to lessen pain and promote healing of skin wounds and sores. To make a catnip compress, fill a basin with very hot water. Add a few drops of oil (such as lavender, tea tree or rose) and add a handful of fresh or dried catnip. Soak a cloth in the water and apply to the affected area. Reheat the compress as needed.
A catnip bath can help ease menstrual cramps, colic, headaches, nervousness and restlessness. To make a catnip bath, add one to two handfuls of fresh or dried catnip to your bath water and soak for at least five minutes.
To make catnip butter, gently heat one cup of oil (such as olive, coconut or jojoba) and two cups of fresh or dried catnip. Once the oil and catnip are thoroughly mixed, add this to three cups of unsalted butter. Melt all of the ingredients together and stir thoroughly until they’re well mixed.
Sources & references used in this article:
Evaluation growth and essential oil content of catmint and lemon catnip plants as new cultivated medicinal plants in Egypt by H Said-Al Ahl, NY Naguib, MS Hussein – Annals of Agricultural Sciences, 2018 – Elsevier
Is the extract from the plant catmint (Nepeta cataria) repellent to mosquitoes in Australia? by CE Webb, RC Russell – Journal of the American Mosquito Control …, 2007 – BioOne
Antiviral Substances in Plants of the Mint Family (Labiatae). III. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and other Mint Plants. by EC Herrmann Jr, LS Kucera – Proceedings of the Society for …, 1967 – journals.sagepub.com
Steam distillation of catmint plants by Y Gonzalez, SC Jackson, LE Manzer – US Patent 8,329,229, 2012 – Google Patents
Chemical defense of the mint plant, Teucrium marum (Labiatae) by T Eisner, M Eisner, DJ Aneshansley, CL Wu… – Chemoecology, 2000 – Springer
Analysis of monoterpenoids in glandular trichomes of the catmint Nepeta racemosa by LJ Clark, JGC Hamilton, JV Chapman… – The Plant …, 1997 – Wiley Online Library
Repellent activity of catmint, Nepeta cataria, and iridoid nepetalactone isomers against Afro-tropical mosquitoes, ixodid ticks and red poultry mites by MA Birkett, A Hassanali, S Hoglund, J Pettersson… – Phytochemistry, 2011 – Elsevier
Uncoupled activation and cyclization in catmint reductive terpenoid biosynthesis by BR Lichman, MO Kamileen, GR Titchiner… – Nature chemical …, 2019 – nature.com