Thursday, August 29, 2013

Foraging for Catnip

     Catnip grows wild here in central Minnesota as I’m sure it does in many places. We make a popular catnip vinegar so one of my duties this morning was to forage for some. As I weed and prune around the garden and orchard, I mentally map where I can find it when I need it. This time of year, most has already gone to flowers, with the leaves less than prime. But catnip continues to come up through the summer so I knew I’d find some young enough, maybe at the teenage stage.
     I collected a bucket and my new long-nose clippers. As I roamed, I clipped spent day lilies and hosta flowers as well as the occasional thistle. I checked the milkweeds for caterpillars but didn’t see many chewed leaves. I was pleased to see a monarch butterfly flit across the ponds. I hope it was planning to lay eggs on some of the milkweed we’ve saved for that purpose.
     Monarch eggs have suffered (if an egg can suffer) the predation by a variety of insects and protozoan parasites, seemingly reducing their numbers in recent years. About 20 years ago, we were concerned whether the monarchs would reproduce well in this area. We hadn’t seen many through that July but by the end of August we found many chrysalides hanging from the siding, statuary and lawn furniture.
     This year, and it’s already the end of August, I haven’t seen a single chrysalis, not even one caterpillar. We have plenty of milkweeds but few butterflies.
     My wandering across the yard in search of catnip led me to the best find near the chicken coop. The poor hens have been cooped up since they took a liking to strawberries and tomatoes. They even nibbled the leaves off the pepper plants when we set them out in the straw bale garden. We tried to fence them in with a makeshift fence. Though chickens aren’t high on the intelligence scale, they quickly found a way through. So, I bring them tasty morsels like melon rinds and the remnants of our meals of corn on the cob.
     The catnip was growing at the base of a huge basswood tree next to the coop. Scattered along with it was a healthy stand of deadly nightshade. That emphasizes the importance of knowing not only the plants that are useful but also those that grow alongside them.
     As I was clipping the catnip, I saw a flash of light. I thought I was seeing things until I heard a distant roll of thunder. We desperately need rain and it is in the forecast for today. The thunder was separated from the flash by long enough that I knew the lightning wasn’t close. But, flashes continued to come and each time the thunder was more immediate. I suddenly felt extremely vulnerable when several flashes were closely followed by ear-splitting thunder. There I stood, under a huge tree with a metal clipper with rubber handles and a ten-inch blade.
     What to do? I waited until the next flash and boom and then high-tailed it for the house, holding the clipper blade downward as if it would deflect the electrical charge if struck. Ron saw me coming and thought it was funny, I guess, though he hasn’t seen me run in quite a while. I didn’t linger out in the open but headed through the vinegary door while Ron stood outside looking upward. Well, he didn’t get struck, we got some rain, and now it’s moved on. 

     I washed the catnip and bagged it for the freezer. Our calico cat, Pandora, was enchanted by the bag. I gave her a stray leaf and she loved it, batting, tossing and nibbling on it. Javiar, the Maine Coon cat that belongs to our son, showed no interest at all. Our big orange tomcat, Jed, came late to the scene and ate the last bits. Catnip is a stimulant for cats so I suppose we’ll have them chasing each other through the house. It has a calming effect on humans so if you decide to try some of our catnip vinegar on your salad, you’ll enjoy the flavor and then calmly go about the rest of your day.

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