When And How To Pick Catnip – Tips For Harvesting Catnip Plants

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Catnip is every cat’s favorite plant, and its drug-like, euphoric effect on our furry friends is well known to cat lovers. You can also use catnip, a member of the mint family, as a culinary herb and in herbal teas. If you grow catnip in the garden, you’ll need to know when and how to harvest the leaves.

Why Grow and Harvest Catnip?

If you have cats, you can simply buy catnip at the store, but when you grow it yourself, you know where it comes from and that it’s organic. It’s easy to grow and harvesting catnip is simple too. You can dry the leaves to use for cat toys, or let your cats try them fresh. Outdoor cats will also enjoy playing around the plants in the garden.

For human consumption, catnip leaves are used in teas and salads and may be useful for soothing stomach upset, much like mint plants.

When to Pick Catnip

For your cat’s delight, the best time for picking catnip leaves is when the plants are flowering, around mid-summer. This is when the compounds that cats love most are at peak levels in the leaves. Harvest the leaves later in the day, when the dew has dried so you minimize the risks of the harvest getting moldy. Also, consider harvesting the flowers at this time.

How to Harvest Catnip Plants

Catnip plants grow quickly and will readily replace what you remove. However, they are more likely to regrow stems than single leaves, so to harvest, cut off entire stems close to the base of the plant. Then you can remove individual leaves and allow them out to dry on a screen or drying tray.

Keep your catnip harvest in a place safe from cats. They will be drawn to the leaves and will destroy them before they are ready to store. Once dry, you can store catnip leaves whole or crushed in a sealed jar or bag in a cool, dark cupboard.

You should be able to make a good harvest of catnip leaves at least twice in the growing season. Cut stems in the summer at bloom time and again in the fall and you should have a good supply to take you and your cats through the winter.

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Catnip Plant Profile

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a common herb that thrives in much of North America and is very easy to grow. While you've probably heard that catnip makes cats tipsy, you might not know that this effect is an inherited trait and it does not affect all cats.  

Catnip grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet and has featherlike, light green foliage and small clusters of lavender flowers that grow on spikes. A member of the mint family, catnip is also used in food and herbal remedies. For example, tea made from the leaves and flowers of Nepeta cataria is said to relieve coughs. The oil extracted from catnip plants is even used in natural mosquito repellents.

Catnip plants have naturalized in various parts of North America, and even where they are not perennial, they will likely reseed. In fact, many gardeners find catnip to be too weedy and too aggressive to grow it in their landscapes. This herbaceous perennial can be planted in spring or fall. It is a fast grower and can reach 2 to 3 feet in height in a single season.

If you're planning to grow catnip, for your cat or yourself, keep in mind that there are different types of catnip and that all common types are invasive. This means they can take over your garden—even if they don't take over your cat's mind.  

Botanical Name Nepeta cataria
Common Name Catnip, catmint
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial herb
Mature Size 2 to 3 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Moderately rich loam or sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic to alkaline (6.1 to 7.8)
Bloom Time Summer and fall
Flower Color White, lavender
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9 (USDA)
Native Area Eurasia widely naturalized elsewhere
Toxicity Toxic to cats

1. Insect Repellent

nuzree / Pixabay

If your cat ingests catnip on a regular basis, it may deter fleas and ticks. It and can do the same for humans. Nepetalactone, the oil in catnip that gives the plant its minty scent, is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET.

Just take some of the leaves and rub them over exposed skin the next time you’re in the garden and mosquitoes are biting. Your cat will give you lots of love when you see them next!

There are many different types of caterpillar (the larvae of moths and butterflies of course). We have already described many different types, but I wanted to include a separate heading to catch all the rest. They are a problem because they feed on leaves and when present in large numbers they can be quite devastating.

If they aren’t too numerous the best control is to hand pick, though they are often well camouflaged and hard to spot (though the damaged leaves alert you to their presence, while fresh droppings give away their location). If there are too many you might try a spray of B.T. Many caterpillars are preyed upon by birds, ground Beetles, spiders, small wasps and a host of other predators and this is the best way to control them.

Image: Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

Tricia shares tips for planting your very own herb garden in containers.

Store your herbs for flavor over the long winter months.

How often can I give my cat catnip?

As often as you want to. Cats can’t overdose on catnip and once a cat has experienced a catnip high, it will not be responsive to additional catnip for several hours.

Only 60% of cats respond to catnip so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see a reaction.

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Julia Wilson

Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time. Full author bio Contact Julia

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