A huge number of herbs come from the mint (Lamiaceae or Labiatae) family and are liberally used in the kitchen or for medicinal purposes. They include various mints, basil, lavender, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, sweet marjoram, summer savory, self heal, skullcup, anise hyssop and lemon balm.
|Catmint (Nepeta cataria)|
Catmint (Nepeta cataria) is a hardy herbaceous perennial from this family. It is the species of mint that attracts felines hence the common names catmint, catnip, catnep, cat in clover and cat's heal-all. The flowers also attract wildlife and are very popular with pollinating bees. Found growing in Britain, Europe, Asia and the Himalayas, it can be seen in hedgerows, cultivated garden beds, roadside verges, near streams, banks, waste ground and the borders of fields.
Catmint prefers a sunny spot in well drained chalky, loamy or sandy soil and will tolerate frosts. It grows to 1m by 0.6m and flowers from July to November. The seeds ripen from September to October. It can be cut back after flowering and will produce a second show of leaves and possibly flowers.
This plant can be propagated by seed or division in the spring or autumn. Softwood cuttings can be taken in early summer and semi-ripe cuttings in early autumn. With a bushy habit, catmint is fast growing and will flower in the first year.
We have catmint permanently growing in the polytunnel producing leaves all year round. We cut it down once or twice during the summer months and it re-flowers much to the delight of the bees who regularly visit.
Catmint has a lengthy history as a household herbal remedy for various disorders and the leaves and flowers are favoured for treating disgestive problems, colds, flu and fevers. An infusion has also been used to treat bruises of the skin.
Other uses include as an insect deterrent, particularly ants, flea beetles, fleas, rats and mice. We chop and crush the fresh plant and sprinkle in the horse shelter to deter the flies during the summer months, with a moderate amount of success! This plant, and many other plants from the genus Nepeta, contains nepetalactone which protects the plants from herbivorous insects. It has herbicidal and insect repellent properties. Dried leaves retain the mint aroma and can be used as a pot pourri.
Raw edible parts
Plants from the Lamiaceae or Labiatae family are generally quite safe to imbibe. The leaves are often used as a tea or food flavouring and can be dried for later use such as in the winter months when the aerial parts of the plant die off. However, do check each species for any peculiarities before use, in particular if pregnant, using large doses or as an extract.
With regards catmint, the young leaves are edible raw and can be used in salads. They have a mint flavour and aroma. Older leaves can be used as a flavouring in cooked foods. Fresh or dried, leaves can be used to make a refreshing green tea.
|Catmint (Nepeta cataria)|