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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catnip, Entertain Kitty, Deter Mosquitoes

Catnip Kitty
Our cats are primarily kept indoors but are much more content if allowed a little time outside once in a while to enjoy a chew on some grass (unsprayed) and a romp in the herb garden's catnip.

This is a case where one species' intoxicant is another's relaxant. In people, catnip helps to soothe the digestive tract, relieve cramps and calm one down. A colicky baby can be consoled by offering a weak catnip tea from a bottle. Catnip can also help bring down a fever and help a child sleep.

If you have no reason to plant catnip for a cat's delight, plant it anyway for your own purposes. Catnip (any mint for that matter) deters pesky mosquitoes. Placed near entrance ways to your home or near outdoor seating areas, the plants should help keep biting insects out of the house.

Catnip has no history as a human intoxicant, but with felines it is another matter. All cats are attracted to the plant, buy only about two-thirds show euphoria. 

Polo in her element
Catnip is a gray-green perennial with an aromatic smell you'll soon learn to distinguish from other plants in the mint family. It grows to about 3 feet tall with a square stem and fuzzy leaves. It thrives in any well-drained soil under full sun to partial shade. Kept on the dry side produces more aromatic plants. Even though catnip won't spread like your typical mints by way of underground runners, it will pop up here and there if it finds a location to its liking. It grows in a clump so it is easy to control.

Plants that are unbroken or bruised may not hold any attraction for cats, but bruising releases the aromatic oils, and then the entire plant may be at risk for destruction. Let your cat have a little fun, the plant will bounce back.

The best time to gather the leaves and flower tops is when the plants are in bloom. What gives the plant its aroma are the essential oils, and the leaves are at their most potent when the plant is in flower. Once cut back, the plant will  regrow and bloom again a few times over the summer season. If it isn't cut back, the plant will eventually get somewhat lanky and woody.
Using a sharp shears, cut the stems down to about 3 - 4 inches above the ground. Gather the stems into small bunches and tie with a piece of twine for hanging. Hang in an airy place, such as a garage, attic or shed. Somewhere with nice circulation but not in direct sunlight, you don't want to destroy the essential oils. Once dry, strip off the leaves with your fingers, crumble and store in a tightly sealed container to keep out moisture.

Catnip is so easy to grow and one plant can supply your cat with an entire winter's supply. So grow your own for a very inexpensive, you'll know it's fresh, kitty treat. We just scatter a small pile on the floor and let the cats have a ball. Eventually the aromatics will evaporate and the cats won't bother with it any more. Then just vacuum or use a dust pan to clean it up.

Take it one step further and make little cat toys utilizing fabric scraps. Make them small enough for kitty to grab and toss around. For each toy, cut out two pieces into your desired shape, lay the printed sides together so the wrong sides face outwards. Add a few straight pins to hold them still. Hand sew with tiny stitches to avoid leakage of the plant material or machine sew all around leaving just enough of an opening to stuff in the dried herb. Turn the fabric right side out again by carefully pushing the fabric through the opening. Use a spoon to add the dried catnip. Once the catnip is inside close up the hole with additional stitches. There you go!
A moment when Pearl actually gets along with other cats