If you love cats, you’ve most likely heard about the blissful effects of catnip on these creatures.
Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb from the mint family. It is known to give cats satisfaction and lower their stress levels. Some even become more energetic.
It’s not just for cats; humans also use catnip to help treat insomnia, headaches, and even mild anxiety.
When to harvest catnip? Usually, you can start picking catnip as soon as the plants start flowering. Around this time, catnip plants will be approximately six inches tall or taller. The best time to pick them is in late spring or early fall, depending on your region.
How Do You Know When Your Catnip Is Ready to Harvest?
Catnip grown from seeds will take about five to 10 days to sprout when planted in a suitable climate.
However, if you’re from a colder region, the process will take longer, usually 20 days.
That said, as a member of the mint family, you will find that they are easy to grow, even more so if you are from a tropical climate.
As fast growers, they will be ready for harvest 12 to 15 weeks after planting.
If you are unsure if your catnip plants have had enough time to grow, here’s how to tell if they are ready for harvest:
Always know what season it is.
Although they grow faster in a warmer environment, they can withstand the cold too.
So, don’t feel down if you live in a colder part of the country; you can still plant them, but they will take a little longer to grow.
As mentioned, catnip seeds take one to two weeks to sprout. You then have to wait for the flowers to bloom to be sure they are ready for picking.
If you planted catnip seeds in early spring, you could expect them to be ready for harvest in late spring to early fall.
Inspect your plant.
Catnip seeds grow fast and usually grow stems and leave first. Then, around late spring to fall, they will start producing flowers.
The flowers will bloom for one to two months, which is when it’s recommended you harvest the leaves.
To check if they’ve grown enough for harvest, try smelling them. If they smell minty, it is a sign that they are almost ready for picking.
From there, wait two weeks to see if they have already produced blooms.
When catnip flowers, the leaves will become more aromatic; around this time is when they have the most amount of the compounds that cats love.
Catnip grows horizontally, but you will know harvest is nearing if they are already six to eight inches tall.
What Happens if You Don’t Harvest Catnip?
At its peak blooming stage, catnip is at its most aromatic; naturally, it is also when it is most effective.
That said, you can only take advantage of its many benefits if you harvest them correctly and at the right time.
Here is what will happen if you don’t:
It loses its aromatic smell.
Catnip has a fragrant scent; it’s minty and grassy at the same time, and it’s why cats love it.
If you don’t harvest catnip at the right time, it will start losing the aromatic scent that makes it so popular among cats.
Moreover, this means you lose the compounds that make it effective for making cats feel good.
The plant starts to die.
Catnip grows stems, leaves, and eventually, flowers.
Unfortunately, these delicate plant components won’t survive the winter cold, so you must harvest them before the temperatures drop.
If you leave them on the plant too long, expect the leaves to dry up and the flowers to wither.
That said, even if they die down in the winter, they will grow again in spring because they are perennials.
How To Harvest Catnip?
While catnip has a fast growth rate, we’re sure you and your cat are both excited for the harvest.
Fortunately, harvesting catnip is easier than it looks. In fact, you won’t even need special skills to harvest catnip.
To make sure you’re doing it correctly, follow these steps:
Step 1: Prepare your tools.
The first step to harvesting catnip is to check if the leaves are mature enough for picking. You can refer to our guide to make sure.
You will need to cut off entire stems right at the base, so a pair of scissors or gardening shears are necessary.
Regular pruning is needed to encourage the plant to grow more leaves, but make sure you do this gently so as not to stress the plant.
If you try to break the stems off by hand, you could harm your catnip plants and cause them to halt their growth.
Step 2: Know where you will use it.
Obviously, you should figure out what you want to use it for.
For instance, it’s possible to harvest a few leaves here and there even when they haven’t flowered yet if you plan on mixing them in with your meals.
However, keep in mind that they will be less aromatic than when you harvest them during their blooming stage.
In line with that, you should harvest them once they have flowers if you want your cats to enjoy all of their benefits.
Step 3: Harvest in the morning.
The best time to harvest catnip is late morning, around 8 AM to 10 AM, when the morning dew has had enough time to dry.
This way, all that extra moisture won’t result in mold growth after harvesting.
Step 4: Start cutting.
If you plan on harvesting many leaves, make sure your pruning shears are sharp as a razor to get a clean cut.
Carefully pick the thickest stem and cut it from the base. These stems are the most mature. That said, leave the thinner stems to allow them to mature more.
After that, get a bowl or a small container to put your fresh catnip in. Lastly, separate the leaves from the stem by hand.
Step 5: Wait until your next harvest.
After picking catnip leaves in late spring, they should be ready for harvest again in the fall.
Wait until the plant grows eight inches to start pinching and cutting them off by the leaf nodes.
During the wait, make sure your cats do not have access to your catnip plants. Otherwise, they might get too excited and unintentionally harm your catnip garden.
You might even need to use wire netting to keep your cat off your growing plants.
With proper care, you can expect this perennial to return each year once the temperatures have warmed up again.
In the meantime, you can collect the seeds from the flowers to grow new catnip plants come early spring.
To do this, simply snip the flower heads and allow them to dry. When fully dry, shake the heads to remove the seeds.
You can also just crumble the dried-up flower heads by hand and spread them where you want your new catnip plants to grow.
Should You Wash Catnip After Harvesting?
As mentioned, it’s best to harvest catnip after the morning dew has dried up to prevent moisture buildup and molds.
However, you can also wash them right after harvesting, especially if you are going to use the leaves for cooking.
To wash catnip, get a bowl and a colander.
Put the leaves in the bowl and rinse under running water, making sure the pressure is just right so that it doesn’t break the delicate leaves.
While doing this, it’s also a good idea to check for any damaged leaves and remove them from the bunch.
After washing, lay the leaves out on paper towels on your kitchen counter to allow them to air dry. Then, proceed to store the remaining leaves for future use.
Can You Eat Catnip?
It might be surprising for some, given that it’s named “catnip,” but humans can also eat the leaves.
However, you have to make sure you only consume the right amount; otherwise, it can cause vomiting and headaches.
In fact, the same is true for cats. Though not toxic nor addicting, too much catnip can cause diarrhea and vomiting in cats.
To eat catnip, mix the leaves with your green salad to give it a little minty and grassy kick. Some prefer turning them into catnip tea!
If you’d like to try this out, you will need to dry catnip leaves or their flowers first. Then, add water, lemon juice, and sugar for a refreshing drink.
So, how do you dry catnip?
Drying catnip in the oven
Drying catnip is the easiest and most common technique for preserving aromatic leaves, and it’s fairly easy to do.
Start by preheating the oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, lay the leaves out on a baking tray and place the tray in the oven.
Leave the oven door slightly open so as not to burn the leaves and allow room temperature air to get rid of excess moisture.
After some time, take one leaf and inspect if it’s dry enough that it crumbles in your hand.
If it does, you’ll know it has dried completely. If not, put it back in the oven and check the leaves again after a few minutes.
Catnip is a very easy plant to grow and one that you and your cat will absolutely love, whether you add it to your fresh garden salad or drink it as tea.
What’s more, growing catnip in your garden helps ward off flies, mosquitoes, and other insects that bite.
The fact that it’s an effective insect repellant and delicious should be reasons enough to grow them in your garden.
They are also good companion plants for lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, and many other vegetables.