Orthosiphon aristatus [Ortho-sy-fon, Ari-status] is a member of the family Lamiaceae (Labiatae), more commonly known as the mint family.
It is a medicinal herb found in many places across the globe including China, South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the tropical regions of Australia.
Others in the family Lamiaceae:
This herb is identified by many common names including:
- Cat’s whiskers plant
- Kumis Kucing in Indonesia (translates to cat’s whiskers)
- Misai Kucing in Malaysia (translates to cat’s whiskers)
- Java tea (the plant is often infused in tea)
- Kidney Tea
- Kitty Whiskers.
Scientific names used for the plant include:
- Ocimum aristatum blume
- Orthosiphon stamineus benth.
Cat’s Whiskers Plant Care
Size & Growth
The plant is quite tall and can reach a height of around 40″ inches.
This herb grows in the form of shrubs and the whiskers are only visible up close.
It may spread out to cover an area of around 12″ – 36″ inches.
The plant blooms fully during late summer and autumn.
Flowering and Fragrance
Some variations of the plant also yield bluish-violet or white flowers.
The variant with the white flowers has red stems and visible leaf veins and is known to have higher potassium content (better diuretic properties).
The ovate leaves are characterized by long stamens (whiskers) hence the name cat’s whiskers.
The flowers are tube-shaped with the petals sticking out like ears.
Light & Temperature
Cat’s whiskers thrive under the full sun but will also be able to grow with filtered light.
It does, however, need some amount of time daily under the sun in order to survive.
The plant prefers mild climates so if you’re living in a region too hot, it is better to grow it in a shaded space.
The plant is semi-deciduous and becomes sparse in the winter, but not completely bare.
During this time, the leaves also turn yellow.
According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the preferred hardiness zone for cat’s whiskers is 9-11.
Watering and Feeding
Before planting, enrich the soil with organic fertilizer ensuring it gets through at least 6″ – 8″ inches deep in the soil.
Water the shrubs regularly, ensuring the soil remains moist but doesn’t contain too much water.
O. Aristatus needs to be fed with fertilizer once a month to ensure healthy growth.
Many gardeners opt for 12-6-6 fertilizer which has high nitrogen content.
Fertilizer should be applied once in summer and once in spring.
Although the plant can survive without water for some time, it may die earlier than a well-watered plantation.
Soil & Transplanting
The soil should ideally be in a ratio of 50% organic matter (apply mulch before planting) and 50% soil.
Additionally, the soil needs to be moist, but well-drained.
Cat’s whiskers may be grown in containers or directly planted into the soil.
It is pretty easy to grow and may be found growing along roadsides.
Grooming and Maintenance
As the plant grows, some leaves and flowers may start to wilt.
To encourage healthy plant growth, snip off the wilted parts of the plant and remove any fallen leaves, etc. around the shrub.
Cat Whiskers Plant Propagation
Propagating cat whiskers is a relatively straightforward process:
- Obtain stem cuttings from the plant which are around 6″ – 8″ inches long and have some buds.
- Plant them in shade keeping a distance of 16″ – 24″ inches between each plant (4-6 cuttings may be used for each space).
- Although you may plant them any time, they grow best if planted at the start of the rainy season.
- The cuttings should be planted vertically.
- It’s alright if one of the buds seems to be poking out of the earth.
Orthosiphon Aristatus Pest or Disease Problems
The plant doesn’t really have any serious disease or pest problems but may be prone to attracting weeds which will have to be removed frequently to prevent them from damaging your plant.
Is The Orthosiphon Cat Whiskers Toxic Or Poisonous?
Any part of the plant which is above the soil is not considered toxic, but those below are.
Research also indicates consuming a very intense dose of java tea may have some toxic side effects.
Overall, however, the plant is not considered to be toxic to people or animals.
Is This Plant Invasive?
The plant grows differently in different regions so depending on where you live, it may or may not be invasive.
Uses and Reasons For Cat Whiskers Plant Growing
This medicinal herb is very diverse and has a number of different uses:
Orthosiphon aristatus is often planted to attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies to its nectar.
This plant is known to have a diuretic effect (owing to its high potassium content) and anti-inflammatory properties and is a popular natural remedy in South Asia and some parts of Europe.
It may also help prevent kidney stone formation, rheumatism and has anti-microbial properties.
The dried leaves may also be infused in tea (hence the name Java tea) to improve your metabolism or steeped in essential oils.
This is particularly common in places such as Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The herb contains flavonoids used in medication to treat illnesses such as venous diseases.