The Nepeta genus to which catmint belongs gets its name from the city of Nepete in Etruria. Nepete is now known as Nepi. Before Rome’s rise, the country of Etruria was the center of Etruscan civilization. There are over 200 plants in the Nepeta genus.
Catmint is a close relative of catnip, a herb that holds a strong appeal for cats. They won’t go as crazy for catmint as they would for catnip. Even so, the catmint and catnip names often get used interchangeably as though they referred to a single herb. Sometimes catnip is called catmint and vice versa. Some also refer to the Nepeta genus as either catnips or catmints. However, there are distinct differences. Catmint is Nepeta faassenii; catnip is Nepeta cataria. Catmint is a hybrid of Nepeta racemosa and Nepeta nepetella. All Nepetas produce nepetalactone, which is the compound that causes the well-known reaction in cats but Nepeta cataria contains much more of it.
The herb that is most often called catmint originated in the nursery of J.H. Faassen in Holland in the 1930s, which accounts for the faassenii part of its name. He developed the earliest hybrids in the Nepeta genus.
Patricia Taylor discovered the Walker’s Low cultivar of catmint in the 1970s and took cuttings with her back to England. The cultivar got its name for the owner of the garden in which Ms. Taylor discovered it. A nursery in England would eventually offer it for sale in the late 1980s. Catmint is excellent for attracting pollinators to a garden and gardeners often plant it for this purpose.
According to old stories about catmint, cats will only attempt to eat bruised or otherwise damaged plants. In any other state, the plants do not interest them.
Before Chinese tea became popular in the U.K., the English would make tea from catmint. It was considered a stimulant and able to make gentle people fierce.
Nepeta plants were brought to North America by the European colonists. Several Native American tribes embraced the herb for its medicinal benefits. They used it to treat muscle cramps and for immune system support.
Catmint flavor profile
Catmint’s flavor and aroma are similar to those of pennyroyal. The taste and scent are both relatively mild when compared to those of other mints.
Health benefits of catmint
Catmint is valuable for its medicinal value, which comes from compounds it contains. Those compounds include:
- Vitamins: Like many in the mint family, catmint is an excellent source of vitamin C. It contains vitamins A and K as well.
- Minerals: Catmint is a good source of iron, manganese, and potassium.
Use catmint for treating or preventing these and other conditions:
- Insomnia: You can use catmint tea as a sleep aid; you can also use it to treat anxiety, which is a common cause of sleeplessness.
- Fever: Catmint can produce perspiration without increasing body heat, which means that you can use it to lower body temperature if it is excessively high.
- Poor digestion: Use catmint to treat various digestive problems including colic and flatulence.
The most common application for catmint is as a tea that you make by steeping it by itself or in combination with other herbs to make a beverage. French cooks sometimes use it as a culinary herb in soups and sauces.
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