“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I've had this idea in my head for years.
To share with you some thoughts on using wild, foraged plants in your family's meals and medicines. Plants that offer us so much more than their cultivated counterparts!
A series written in real-time as the season unfolds. Nothing overwhelming or too technical, but just some simple herbs and roots and fruits you can enjoy to get your feet wet (sometimes literally!) with wild edibles and medicinals. (You can find future posts in the series here.)
I almost called the series "Wonderful Weeds" but based on Emerson's description, weed clearly does not apply to these amazing plants.
I'm starting today with an herb that is easy to recognize and a gift to parents of small children (especially on their fussy days!): catnip.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip is a common herb of field and garden. I'm not sure I've been on a farm where there aren't clumps of it growing here and there around the barnyard!
Catnip can be easily cultivated if you don't find any while out and about in your area, but be aware that once you plant it you'll have this wonderful herb forever! (Like all mints, it's a bit of a beast to get rid of.)
Yes, this fuzzy-leafed member of the mint family is easy to recognize and a boon for parents of young children, especially on their (or our) cranky days and restless nights.
Catnip is an herb I add to nearly all of my tea blends because of the traits it imparts. Here are some of catnip's gifts:
- Calming bedtime tea, especially for little ones
- Helpful during times of stress
- Soothing to the gut
- Aids diarrhea symptoms
- Comfort to an upset stomach
- Wonderful comfort for teething pain
To identify catnip in the field we'll look for it's key distinguishing characteristics. Use the photographs above as a guide.
Stem: Catnip (like all members of the mint family) has an erect, square stem.
Leaves: Deeply lobed with rounded teeth, catnip leaves are heart-shaped.
Leaf texture: The surface of the catnip plant is covered in soft, fuzzy hairs. Up close it almost looks downy.
Growth: Catnip will produce multiple stems from the same base. Leaves emerge alternately (pairs of leaves opposite one another) along the stem. Stems are brittle.
Scent: The scent of catnip is distinctive. Green, warm, and slightly minty (but barely) – not as sharp or sweet as other members of the mint family.
Look-alikes: Wood nettle has a similar leaf-shape. Catnip leaves, however, are much thicker and more substantial. (And don't bite!) Wood nettle also lacks the soft, fuzzy white look of catnip, covered instead in more sparse, sharp hairs.
Tea: Catnip has a bitter flavor in tea that most don't appreciate. However when blended with other sweeter herbs (like cousins peppermint and lemon balm for example) the bitterness disappears and only the medicinal traits remain.
Tincture: Catnip tincture is a helpful remedy for a cranky or restless child (or adult!), especially at bedtime. Take a few drops in a small glass of water. (3-4 drops for a child.)
It's easy to go to the store and by tea or medicine. But making your own? It can be daunting until you've tried it once or twice.
That being said, I'll personally attest that it's quicker for me to make a tea blend then drive to the store to buy one. (And far more satisfying.) Tinctures are even easier! I promise.
Yes, making a simple tea blend or tincture is easier than baking a batch of cookies. You can do this! Just take it one simple step at a time.
Catnip Bedtime Tummy Tea
Wonderful for both sore tummies and restless bedtimes, this tea blend is simple to make and easy to drink. Combine in a mason jar the following dried herbs:
- 3 Tb catnip leaf
- 6 Tb lemon balm
- 1 Tb fennel seed
- 4 Tb peppermint
To brew, set a kettle of fresh water to boil. Measure 1 Tb of tea blend into tea strainer or directly into teapot. Pour 2 cups hot water over tea, then cover and steep for 3 minutes. Strain, cool, and serve.
Store in a labeled jar in a dark cupboard for up to 1 year.
Freshly harvested catnip leaves
Menstruum (extracting liquid) of your choice (see below)
Finely chop fresh, catnip leaves. Make certain the leaves are not damp or wet.
Fill a 1/2 pint mason jar 2/3 full with loosely packed leaves, then cover with the menstruum of your choice.
The menstruum is the liquid into which the plant medicine will be infused. Your choices are many. I prefer brandy, but there are other options as well.
80-proof. Produces a potent tincture with a milder flavor. One dose of tincture made with brandy contains less alcohol than a ripe banana!
100-proof. Also effective to extract plant medicines, but makes for a harsher tincture.
Raw, apple-cider variety. Effective menstruum but makes for a weaker tincture. Increase tincture dosage by 1/2 if exacting in vinegar. Gently warm vinegar before pouring over herbs.
A by-product of the commercial soap-making industry, glycerin is my last choice for tincture making, but many herbalists love it for remedies for children because it is alcohol-free and sweet-tasting. If using mix 1 part glycerin with 1 part water before pouring over herbs. Increase tincture dosage by 1/2 if exacting in glycerin.
After the leaves are covered with liquid, continue filling the jar until full (there should be approximately 2" of liquid above the leaf layer.) Ensure that the herbs are not sticking out of the liquid or they will mold.
Cover with a tight lid. Place the jar in a dark cupboard and allow it to steep (or macerate) for up to two months. Shake the jar gently whenever you think of it, daily is best.
Strain your tincture through cheesecloth, being sure to squeeze out any excess medicine from the leaves. Transfer the strained liquid to a clean, dry jar or dropper bottle, label, and store in a dark cupboard when not in use. Keeps almost forever!
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Hungry for more? I have a Winter Apothecary herbal booklet in my Etsy shop. All proceeds are donated to good causes in our community.
10 thoughts on “Wonderfully Wild: Catnip”
What a fabulous series! Thanks so much!
I LOVE this. Keep this up, please. So simple and succinct, but answers every question in one place. I also adore you and selfishly hope you never stop blogging.
Thank you! This is FABULOUS! My kids, ages 1, 3, and 5, are just getting into foraging. They have so much fun and we want to learn as much as we can. Can’t wait for more. 🙂
Well, shucks! Thanks.
This will be a wonderful series! I’ve been hoping to meet a local who could guide me to these plants that seem lost to the collective memory, so this is the next best thing. Thank you!
A friend of mine passed me a torn-out page of a copy of Popular Mechanics last summer about how catnip essential oils are 10 times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitos. I haven’t tried it yet but it would certainly be an awesome property for Wisconsin summers! There’s even a recipe included.
Oh Rachel this is great. Maybe at some point you can put them all together into a pdf ebook. I will be printing this out for sure! Thanks for this series!
First of all, this is so, so helpful for those of us just getting into foraging. Thank you for writing this!
I’m wondering how you dry your herbs. I’ve had problems with this in the past. Thank you for any information you can provide!
I have no idea what types of healthful wild plants there are in this world and would love to learn the basics! Please consider going through some of the more obvious ones for novices like me. Thanks!
Thanks for the suggestion. Ill discuss how to dry in a future post!