Lavender and catmint are drought-tolerant plants that look a lot alike. They both have purple blooms and are aromatic. If you are a gardener, lavender and catmint are great if you want to attract bees to your garden. Both of these flowering herbs have different applications in the kitchen, even though their roles may overlap in some instances. To learn more about how much lavender and catmint differ or are alike, look at the SPICEography Showdown below.
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How does lavender differ from catmint?
Lavender and catmint are different plants. Lavender is the Lavandula angustifolia plant; catmint is the Nepeta faassenii plant. Catmint blooms in late spring, while lavender blooms from the start of summer to the middle of the season.
Lavender and catmint have different fragrances and flavors. Lavender has a sweetly floral scent and flavor note that some people consider soapy, like cilantro. Lavender’s floral quality is accented by its subtle mintiness. The fragrance of catmint is milder than that of lavender, which has a stronger and more distinctive floral fragrance. Catmint has a slightly minty flavor.
Lavender and catmint differ in terms of the parts of the plants that get used. When cooking with lavender, usually only the flowers are used. Both the flowers and leaves of catmint are edible; typically, the flowers are the parts used medicinally.
Can you use catmint as a substitute for lavender (and vice versa?)
Lavender’s strong floral smell won’t be a good stand-in for the mellow mint character of catmint. Lavender is a great addition to many beverages, but it’s not widely used as a tea herb. When paired with other aromatic herbs like those in herbes de Provence, you may be able to use it to replace catmint as a seasoning for meat.
Despite both plants being in the mint family and being aromatic, catmint won’t make a particularly good lavender substitute when it comes to flavor. Even though catmint does have a sweet scent and a mint flavor, it doesn’t have the immediately identifiable lavender fragrance. Using catmint will result in a different-tasting recipe. If all you need is something that looks like lavender, catmint can work since its flowers look a lot like lavender flowers.
When should you use lavender, and when should you use catmint?
Even though lavender is often grown for non-culinary applications, it does have a secondary application as a culinary ingredient. Cook with lavender by infusing it into simple syrup, then use the syrup for drinks or meringue. Add it to cream to make ice cream. Lavender works in savory applications, where you can pair it with other herbs like marjoram and oregano. You can toss lavender stems into the fire when grilling to get a flavorful smoke that will enhance the flavor of meat.
Catmint is best known for being popular with cats and as a medicinal herb for humans. Its medicinal benefits are that it acts as a mild sedative and may also help to relieve coughs. It is traditional to make a tea with catmint to see its benefits. You can also use catmint leaves the same way that you would use spearmint and other kinds of mint — you can eat it raw in salads and salad dressings, or you can cook with it. Some sources claim that French cooks use catmint as a seasoning for meat.