The catmint plant is in the same family of perennial plants as the catnip plant. It is easy to grow and has grey-green foliage and either purple, pink or white flowers meaning it is a pretty plant for the garden. It also contains the same essential oil, called nepetalactone, which attracts the cats to it that catnip contains.
About the plant
Catmint plants are part of the family called Labiatae. They have a square, hairy stalk and heart shaped leaves with scalloped edges. The flower grow along spikes that are around ½ inch long. There are around 250 plants in the family but the most common catmint species are:
- Nepeta cataria (true catnip) – this plant has white flowers and grows to around 3 feet. It is the most popular variety with cats
- Nepeta camphorate (camphor catnip) – white flowers with purple dots, grows to around 18 inches tall. Has a scent like camphor
- Nepeta parnassica (Greek catnip) – white or pale pink flowers, grows up to 18 inches tall
- Nepeta cataria citriodora (Lemon catnip) – white flowers with spots of purple, grows to 3 feet. The leaves have a lemony smell
- Nepeta mussinii (Persian catmint) – purple flowers, small leaves, grows to 15 inches in height
The plant originated from Europe and Asia but is now found across North America and Canada, believed to have been taken there by colonists in the 1600s.
Why is it so attractive?
It is thought that the oil, nepetalactone, has an effect on cats similar to the effects of LSD on humans while others think it mimics hormones involved in mating. This is because a female cat effected by catmint will often roll on the floor, similar to the way she would when in season. Yet male cats are effected the same way so it is possible that the oil simply gives a feel-good effect.
Not all cats are effected by catmint as not all are effected by catnip. Around half to two thirds of cats find the herb enjoyable and kittens under the age of eight weeks either ignore it or find it unpleasant and enjoy it. It is thought that the response to catmint is an inherited genetic trait that can be passed from just one of the kitten’s parents.
Catmint is also a natural repellent for insects, particularly mosquitoes and can even put off cockroaches. Rats and mice have been shown to dislike the plant and will avoid the spots where it grows.
Growing catmint is a straightforward proposition even for those who aren’t naturally green fingered. They can be grown from seed and are sown around 18-24 inches apart. Once they begin to grow on, they can be planted into the garden but prepare the hole with some compost first, them dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Put the root ball into the hole so that the top is level with the soil around it then fill the hole. Water thoroughly.
After the plant has had its first bloom, cut back by around a third and this can encourage a second growth of flowers. Divide the plant every 3-4 years to maintain a healthy size.