Catmint and catnip both belong to the Lamiaceae family and have quite a few things in common as evidenced by the cat prefix that they share. The two names are also commonly confused as many people believe that they refer to a single herb. That said, catmint and catnip are two quite different herbs that possess different properties despite their commonalities. If you are trying to choose between one or the other, keep in mind that they can have very different effects so which you choose depends on the benefits you want. The catmint vs. catnip SPICEography Showdown below can help.
How does catmint differ from catnip?
Arguably the best-known property of both catmint and catnip is their appeal to members of the feline species. Some cats love these herbs. They are used as recreational drugs for cats, and cause short-lived hyperactivity and euphoria. What attracts cats is a terpene called nepetalactone that is said to mimic the female cat’s sex hormone. The big difference is that catmint has much less of the cat attractant than does catnip. It does contain some and will still interest and enthrall some cats, but not to the extent that catnip does.
Catmint has a mild minty fragrance similar to other mints like pennyroyal; catnip is musky and does not have as sweet a smell.
Catmint has bright blue flowers, which make it a more attractive plant; especially since the flowering parts are often used medicinally. Catnip is a purely medicinal plant with little visual appeal. It looks like a standard member of the mint family; however, its leaves are larger than those of most mints including catmint. Catmint leaves measure only about 1 to 2 inches in length; catnip leaves can measure up to 3 inches in length.
Catmint also differs from catnip in that it is a hybrid of two species: Nepeta racemosa and Nepeta nepetella. Catnip is not a hybrid.
Can you use catmint in place of catnip and vice versa?
Catmint is not a great substitute for catnip if you want something to appeal to your cat. Only a subset of cats is attracted to catnip, and even fewer of them will be drawn to catmint since it has a lower concentration of nepetalactone. However, catnip does have some medicinal value for humans; you can use catmint as an alternative if that value is what you want. Catmint is not as aromatic as catnip, which may make a catmint tea more enjoyable.
When should you use catmint and when should you use catnip?
Catmint is a tea herb with medicinal and culinary benefits. Use it to treat nausea, anxiety and insomnia. It is used like basil and shows up in recipes for some French soups and sauces. Catnip’s smell sometimes gets likened to a blend of thyme and oregano with skunky notes. Because of its strong scent, catnip is a less popular ingredient for cooking. Instead, you can use it to make a medicinal tea. Catnip does have many of the same therapeutic benefits as catmint — it is a cough remedy and sleep aid — but it is not as popular for human consumption. If you want treats for your cat, you will want to use catnip instead of catmint. Note that not all cats are sensitive to the nepetalactone in catnip; the sensitivity will vary.