What Are the Differences Between Catnip and Catmint?

purple catmint in the garden with yellow roses
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What Are the Differences Between Catnip and Catmint?

Catnip and Catmint Are Often Confused but They Are Different Plants

In the realm of captivating cat-attracting plants, the confusion often arises between two familiar favorites: catnip and catmint. While their names might suggest a close kinship, these botanical wonders are, in fact, distinct species within the Nepeta genus. Let's delve into the nuances and discover the differences between catnip and catmint.

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cat sleeping by catnip plantcat sleeping by catnip plant

Catnip: The Feline Euphoria

Firstly, we have the famed catnip, scientifically known as Nepeta cataria. Renowned for its intoxicating effect on our feline friends, catnip has a rich history as a minor medicinal herb in Europe. Traditionally brewed into a strengthening tea, it stands out as one of the select few plants capable of inducing euphoria in cats.

Originally introduced from Europe during early settlement days, catnip swiftly escaped the confines of New England by 1670, spreading its aromatic allure across the continent. Today, you can find it flourishing in every U.S. state and most of Canada. However, its mildly invasive nature means it can take over garden spaces with its robust growth.


purple blooms of catmint branchespurple blooms of catmint branches

Catmint: The Garden Gem

On the other hand, catmint encompasses a variety of species within the Nepeta genus, such as Nepeta faassenii, N. racemose (formerly N. mussinii), N. subsessilis, and numerous hybrids. While it shares the Nepeta lineage with catnip, catmint tends to be less famous for its feline appeal.

Initially brought to North America from Eurasia as enchanting garden flowers, catmints may contain the cat-attracting molecules found in catnip, albeit in lesser concentrations. A handful of species have ventured into weed territory in select parts of North America, but for the most part, they thrive beautifully in the gardens they were carefully planted in.

Spotting the Differences

Upon closer inspection, the disparities between catnip and catmints become evident. Both species are characterized by their upright, perennial herbaceous nature, boasting square stems and aromatic leaves. Their flowers, a beacon for bees and butterflies alike, grace the garden with their captivating allure.

Catnip, reaching heights of about three feet, showcases pale to medium green leaves that can grow up to 2.5 inches long. Emitting a faint minty aroma, its delicate white flowers bloom in midsummer, inviting the buzzing of pollinators.

In contrast, catmints tend to be more petite, standing at around two feet tall. Their flowers, a spectacle of intense purple or lilac-blue hues, make their debut in spring, continuing their charming display throughout the summer months. Dark green, modestly sized leaves define these delightful plants, with some emanating a minty fragrance, while others offer a hint of turpentine.

Choosing the Right Plant

So, when it comes to selecting the ideal plant for your garden, the decision hinges on your desires. If you're aiming to create a haven for your beloved feline companions, then catnip is undoubtedly the way to go. With its euphoria-inducing properties, it promises moments of joy for your furry friends.

On the other hand, if you're seeking to cultivate a garden brimming with beauty and charm, catmints steal the spotlight. Their dazzling blooms, irresistible to pollinators, add a touch of magic to any outdoor space.

In essence, while catnip and catmint share a common lineage, their distinct characteristics cater to different desires in the garden. Catnip beckons to our feline friends with promises of euphoria, while catmints enchant gardeners with their alluring blooms and fragrances.