Catmint and cats: effects & uses


Having studied organic farming, I enjoy trying out new cultivation methods and other gardening experiments with friends in our community garden. I care deeply about exploring sustainable and mindful approaches to working with nature. This is my biggest passion, but I am also a real ornamental plant enthusiast!

Favourite fruit: strawberry, mango, guava
Favourite vegetables: artichoke, tomato, rocket

Catmint does not bear its name for nothing. Here, you will learn why cats are so crazy about the herb and how catmint is used.

A cat enjoying catmint
Most cats can’t get enough of catnip [Photo: Anna Hoychuk/]

Most people know that catmint (Nepeta) has a very special effect on cats. But why the herb is so irresistible for cats and what else catmint can be used for is not known to many. In this article, we will tell you how and why catnip has such an impact on cats and how you can use catmint in the kitchen as well as a remedy.

Effects of catmint

Catmint is a popular plant in our gardens, rooms or on the balcony. It belongs to the labiates family (Lamiaceae) and there are over 50 different species of catnip worldwide. Their flowers attract bees and other pollinators, plus they do well in perennial or scented beds. For us, the bushy plant with blue or white flowers pleasantly smells of lemon and mint. For cats, however, there seems to be more to the smell.

How does catmint affect cats?

If you have cats yourself, you may have seen it before: when our house tigers come into contact with this special mint variety, they start to behave extremely strangely. Catnip has a very special effect on almost all cats and even on their wild relatives – like lions and tigers. The plant seems to have a magical attraction for the animals. For most cats, catmint leads to a euphoric, hyperactive state. Some animals even become hyperactive on contact with catmint, rubbing themselves against the plant or even rolling in it. Other cats also nibble on the leaves. However, a completely different effect can be observed with dried catnip: cats sometimes become completely calm and relaxed on contact. However, catnip does not have the same effect on all animals. Catmint sometimes has no effect on young animals that are not yet sexually mature.

A bee pollinating catmint flowers
Bees are also drawn to catmint flowers [Photo: Sleepyhobbit/]

Tip: You can embrace the almost drug-like effects of catnip at home. For example, toys that have been rubbed with catmint, suddenly become very interesting to your pet. This is especially true for domestic cats who do not like to move and have a little too much fat on their ribcage.

Why does catnip affect cats?

The reason why cats are so enthusiastic about this special mint is not completely clarified by research. What is clear, however, is that catmint contains a substance called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is probably used by the plant as a natural defense against insects and pests. This substance is very similar to the natural sex pheremones of cats. This would also explain why male cats in particular are so fond of catnip. The smell of the plant stimulates the cat’s sex drive – and it releases endorphins.

Catmint, by the way, is completely non-toxic in small amounts and there is no need to panic if your cat bravely bites into a catnip leaf. You can also read exciting facts about 10 other plants that are safe for cats in this dedicated article.

Tip: The scent of catmint is not only beguiling for cats: lacewings are also attracted by the smell. These are a natural enemy of aphids and also a pollinator for your plants.

Uses and applications of catmint

Aside from its aphrodisiac effect on cats, catmint can also be used by humans. Essential oil can be made from catmint for its pleasant scent. This is supposed to have a deterrent effect on insects. Catnip is also believed to have various medicinal properties. It has been used as a remedy since the Middle Ages.

Herbal infusion with catmint leaves
Herbal infusions made from catnip can be relaxing and calming [Photo: marisc/]

Catnip has the following properties:

  • Relaxing
  • Antispasmodic
  • Analgesic
  • Digestive
  • Diaphoretic and diuretic

You can use catmint fresh or dried as a tea. For this purpose, the fresh or dried leaves and flowers are simply scalded with hot water and left to infuse for five to ten minutes. Catnip was also used to treat toothache as early as the Middle Ages. For this benefit, you just need to chew a few fresh leaves. So if you want to please your cat or enjoy catmint yourself from your own garden or windowsill, read all about planting catmint here.