For centuries catnep has been grown in France where the young leaves and new shoots have traditionally been used as a flavouring.
Catnep, nepeta cataria, is a perennial wild plant growing on waste ground and along hedgerows in dry chalk or gravelly soil. It is a handsome herb which grows up to 3 ft (91 cm) tall with heartshaped crinkly leaves covered with a soft down. The little two-lipped flowers cluster thickly at the top of the stems, forming spikes; they vary in colour from pale pink with red spots to completely white. They bloom from June through to September and the whole plant has heart-shaped crinkly leaves covered with a soft down. The little two-lipped be confused with nepeta faassenii, which has blue grey leaves and purple flowers. The catmint nepeta faassenii has a strong coarse aroma and the only similarity between the two plants is that cats love them and delight in rolling in them.
Catnep is a very easy herb to grow in any garden soil in sun or shade, though it is more fragrant if planted in the sun. In the spring catnep can be propagated either by dividing established plants or by sowing seed. Sow the seed where the herb is to flower and when the seedlings are large enough thin them out to about I 2 in (30 cm) apart. The plants need little attention and will thrive for several years.
The leaves and flowering tops are the parts of the herb used in the home. The flowering tops are cut in August when the plant is in full bloom; leaves for drying can be picked at any time before the plant begins to flower. Dry and store in the usual way.
Catnep is full of Vitamin C and makes a pleasant- tasting healthy drink. Catnep tea is a good drink for those with feverish colds as it helps to increase perspiration and acts as a mild sedative. It will also help to settle an upset stomach and relieve flatulence.
* To make catnep tea: Pour ½ cup of boiling water on to / teaspoon of fresh chopped or dried catnep. In fuse for only 2—3 minutes before straining it and add honey to sweeten. Take a small glassful, either hot or warm, last thing at night.
* Chewing catnep leaves is said to be helpful in relieving toothache.
A decoction of catnep flowering tops is effective in clearing dandruff.
* To make the decoction: Add 3 tablespoons of flowering tops to 2 cups of water in an enamel saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Use as a lotion and rub well into the scalp. Store the lotion in a screwtop bottle in a cool place or in the refrigerator and use within a few days.