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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

Catmint    Nepeta cataria 

Image courtesy of D Gordon and E Robertson   CC BY-SA 3.0 licenseCatnip flowers.jpg

Introduction

Catmint, catnep or catwort is a plant in the genus Nepeta in the family of plants known as the Lamiaceae {Mint family} and the Order of plants known as the Lamiales. It is a native of southern Europe and the Middle East but has been introduced elsewhere. 

It does grow in the wild in the UK in southern and central counties of England. However, these may have originated from garden escapes as it is a popular cottage garden plant. It may be encountered in hedgerows, dry banks and on waste ground especially so on chalky and gravelly soil.

It gets its common name because the plant attracts the attention of cats who seem to delight in rolling in it or resting upon it. they are closely related to the dead nettles. 

Foliage of catmint.

Courtesy of FASTILY  CC BY-SA 4.0 license.File:Nepeta cataria 1 2017-04-21.jpg

Description

The root of this species is perennial from which arise square, erect and branched stems. these attain the height of two to three feet {60-90 cm }.The stems are very leafy and covered with a mealy down The heart-shaped , toothed leaves are also covered with a soft close down,  especially so on the under surface. The under surface can appear quite white because of it. The whole plant has a hoary, greyish appearance looking very dusty.

The flowers grow on short stalks in dense whorls and at the top of the stems grow so close to each other as to form a spike. The individual flowers are small, and the corollas two-lipped, the upper lip straight, of a pale pink colour dotted with red spots, the anthers are a deep red colour.  The calyx tube has 15 ribs , a distinguishing feature of  the genus Nepeta.

They may be encountered in flower from July until September. 

Close up of the individual blooms.

Courtesy of Holger Casselmann.   CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Illustration of the Basic components of Catmint.

General and medicinal information

The plant has an aromatic odour superficially similar to mint and the much rarer Pennyroyal. It is thought that this aroma is the attraction for cats. It seems that if any plant is bruised which allows the odour to escape they will lie on it and spoil the plants.  There is an old saying which states --

-" If you set it, the cats will eat it,

If you sow it, the cats don't know it' 

It seems to back up the theory the aroma is only transmitted to them when you transplant it, or if the plant is bruised during gardening activities.

In countries such as France the leaves were grown for culinary purpose, in the manner of seasoning. They were regularly grown in the herb or kitchen garden for that purpose. 

It is the flowering tops that are utilized in medicine and they are harvested in August when the plant is in full bloom. It s qualities are said to be as a carminative , diaphoretic, refrigerant and mildly stimulating. It also produces perspiration which is of especial use against the symptoms of a cold. Catmint tea was used in the case of fevers. This because it actions induce sleep  and increases perspiration without increasing the heat of the system.

It was also said to relieve painful swellings when applied in the form of a poultice or fomentation. 

Culpeper {1600's} stated  " The juice drunk in wine  is good for bruises' and that the Green leaves bruised and made into an ointment is  " effectual for piles" 

Catmint growing in a kitchen garden

Courtesy of Penarc.  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

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