Orthosiphon aristatus: Cat’s whiskers

Family: Lamiaceae
Common name: Cat’s whiskers, Java tea, Kidney tea plant

Cat’s whiskers is an amazing herb that can also be grown as ornamental plants in home gardens or landscaped areas. Belonging to the Tulsi family of Lamiaceae, Cat’s whiskers plants grow almost to the same height of 2-3 meters.

The stem is woody towards the base and purple towards the tip, bearing small, serrated leaves that are 3-4 cms long. These green serrated leaves are quite pretty, making the plant beautiful even without its stunning blooms.

During the flowering season, the plant bursts forth in tall bunches of white or light purple flowers that are similar to Tulsi flowers but much larger.

Stamens and pistils extend way out beyond the petals giving it a cat’s whiskers appearance, and hence the name of the plant. Flowers are tubular with a 1cm long corolla tube, and 2 prominent petals, one pointed upwards and one downwards.

Stamens are 5-6 cms long extending out from the raceme, making the flowers look spiny and fluffy. The tips of the stamen are deep purple. Once the flowers mature and fall away, the sepal cup enlarges to contain small seeds that are 1-2 mm long. Mature seeds fall to the ground and produce small plantlets which can be replanted easily.

Spent flower bunches of Cat’s whiskers plant look very similar to those of Tulsi or Ocimum sanctum, but slightly larger. This makes it very easy to identify them as belonging to the Lamiaceae family. And like Tulsi plants, Cat’s whiskers plants have many medicinal uses.

They are native to South East Asia, but are now grown as medicinal and ornamental plants in many tropical countries around the world. In some places, they have escaped cultivation and are seen in the wild on roadsides or empty plots.

Dried leaves are used as a diuretic, in the treatment of kidney stones, kidney infections, nephritis, diabetes, gall stones, and urinary bladder ailments.

The strong diuretic properties of Cat’s whiskers’ leaves help increase the kidney’s ability to excrete nitrogen-containing compounds. These plants also have antibacterial, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Cat’s whiskers plants are quite adaptable and need very little maintenance. They need bright sunlight to encourage blooming, but are otherwise tolerant of drought, pollution, heavy rains, and fluctuations in weather.

Fertilization is required just before the blooming season to encourage abundant flowers. They make lovely hedge or border plants because of their thick foliage and strikingly beautiful flowers.

Propagation is through seeds.