Catnip is an herb that is, as its name suggests, very attractive to cats. It is a member of the mint family, and it's leaves and stems are fuzzy, like sage.
Easy to cultivate, catnip will spread rapidly, like any mint. If the leaves are crushed or bruised, an aromatic volatile oil will be released, and it will quickly attract any cat in the vicinity, who will eat the bruised plant. People who grow this herb in the garden may need to protect it with wire mesh.
Catnip has long been a specific remedy for colds, bronchitis and insomnia. An infusion of the herb can be prepared by steeping the leaves in water that has been boiled. The active ingredients of catnip are quickly dissipated, so the leaves should not be boiled in the water, and the pot should be covered to retain the steam. Catnip has an antispasmodic effect, and is therefore useful against diarrhea, cramps and colic. It is mild enough to give to children.
This herb can also be added to salads as a savory green. If it is grown to be dried for home use, the top of the plant should be collected when it is in full flower, and it can be dried by hanging it in bunches, out of the reach of any household cats. Certain properties in catnip have been shown to be effective at repelling insects, another reason why people might like to have some growing in the garden. There is even recent research that shows that wood treated with the essential oil will not be bothered by termites, although the effects are so far short lived, due to the volatile nature of the oil.
If purchasing dried catnip, consumers will want to store it in the refrigerator or even the freezer if they have cats. Cats can smell it through the stoutest of plastic, and have been known to climb onto shelves, open cabinets and even open drawers to get to it. They can be given a bit of it in the form of a few spoonfuls in the end of an old sock that has been tied closed. The cats will have the sock in shreds in no time, and it can be quite hilarious to watch.