Catmint vs Catnip: What’s the difference?

Catmint vs catnip: Ginger cat sat next to catnip
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Catmint vs catnip! These two can confuse many a feline enthusiast and it’s not hard to see why. Both are part of the mint family, have similar names, and make bees and butterflies flock for miles to hang out with them. 

If you’re a keen gardener and a cat owner, you’ve probably included plenty of feline-friendly plants in your beds and you likely know that catnip and cats are a match made in heaven and you've probably bought your cat some of the best catnip toys to play with. But what about catmint? Will planting it make your furry friend go crazy or is it best avoided? 

While the two plants have a lot in common, there are a few important differences, especially where your kitty is concerned. Let’s dig up the dirt on these humble plants and see which one holds the key to your moggy’s heart in this battle of catmint vs catnip. 

Catmint vs catnip: What's the difference?

Because they both belong to the mint family and have similar names, confusing them both in the battle of catmint vs catnip is an easy mistake to make. But while these two siblings share plenty in common, they’re different plants.

Both come from the Nepeta genus of flowering plants but are separate species – catmint is Nepeta mussinii and Catnip is Nepeta cataria. Catmint is often planted in garden beds because of its lovely lavender flowers, while catnip has a much weedier appearance and comes with white flowers.

Catmint flowers more continuously than catnip and the leaves are often harvested for use in cooking because of their similar taste to mint. Unlike catmint, catnip is often used as a remedy for fevers, colds, cramps, and migraines, and can be turned into catnip tea for cats or humans. 

Catmint vs catnip: Which one do cats want?

Tabby cat rolling their face in dried catnip

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to catmint vs catnip, there’s only one member of this family that reigns supreme as far as your kitty is concerned and the winner is… catnip! Whether it’s catnip toys or fresh catnip, most furkids can’t get enough of the heavenly green stuff.

Attracted to a compound in catnip leaves known as nepetalactone that makes them want to eat the leaves and gives them that euphoric high we humans find so hilarious, the smell of catnip alone can trigger a whole host of amusing behavior. 

If your cat goes crazy after eating catnip and starts running around, excessively licking or chewing, shaking their head, rubbing, rolling, and salivating all over the place, don’t be alarmed – all of those behaviors are well documented side effects of being exposed to nepetalactone.

While catmint also contains nepetalactone, it’s present in much smaller amounts, and although some kitties may still find catmint interesting, it’s unlikely to have the same enthralling effect as catnip. 

Can cats eat catmint?

Catmint plant with purple flowers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You probably already know that it’s safe for feline furkids to eat catnip, but what about catmint? While many of the plants in the mint family are toxic for cats, that’s usually only the case when they’re consumed in large quantities, and the good news is that catmint is perfectly safe.

It’s unlikely you’ll find your kitty nibbling away on any catmint you have growing in your garden but if you do, rest assured it’s non-toxic so it won’t do them any harm. Catnip on the other hand is worth paying more attention to.

While plenty of furkids love it, catnip is best given in moderation as too much catnip can be bad for cats. Common signs of a catnip overdose include diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, and trouble walking. It’s important to monitor your kitty around catnip and to consult a vet if you think your moggy may have consumed too much of the green stuff. 

Kathryn Rosenberg
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past three years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with a very mischievous Cocker Spaniel and a super sassy cat, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.