If you want a long-flowering, fragrant plant that deer hate and pollinators love, look no further than catmint (Nepeta). A member of the mint family, this perennial is a favorite among gardeners thanks to its purple-blue blooms, attractive aromatic foliage, and low maintenance requirements. Along with its many ornamental uses in the landscape, catmint also has culinary, medicinal, and insecticidal properties. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about Catmint flower meaning, symbolism, and cultural significance in the language of flowers.
The Symbolic Meaning of Catmint – The Essentials
In the language of flowers, a gift of catmint sends a message of happiness and love. It may also symbolize fertility. Giving catmint can be a way to tell someone that they make you happy, that you love them, or that you want to be in a romantic relationship with them.
Catmint is a member of the genus Nepeta, which contains about 250 species. Nepeta is a group of flowering plants — most perennial but some annual — that share characteristics such as aromatic, gray-green, heart-shaped foliage.
Nepeta is part of the Lamiaceae family, also known as the mint family. This large family contains more than 235 genera and upward of 7,200 species. Lamiaceae are grown worldwide, thanks partly to their easy propagation — most can be propagated by taking stem cuttings.
Many members of this family of plants also boast foliage that’s both aromatic and edible. Popular herbs such as sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, peppermint, and spearmint belong to the Lamiaceae family.
Nepeta is also known as catmint or Fassen’s catnip. While it’s often mistaken for its relative, catnip (N. cataria), the plants are not the same.
The most common type of catmint found in the landscape is N. × faassenii. This perennial reaches about two feet tall and three feet wide. It grows in a spreading clump, with aromatic, toothed gray-green leaves.
The plants bloom from spring through summer with spikes of blue-purple blossoms. Both flowers and leaves release an intense, spicy fragrance when crushed.
The name Nepeta is thought to refer to an Etrurian city called Nepete, today known as Nepi. The city was founded well before Rome and is hailed as the heart of ancient Etruscan civilization.
Popular Types of Catmint
N. × faassenii is a sterile variety developed in the 1930 J. H. Faassen’s Netherlands nursery. It became a popular nursery selection in the 1980s and is a hybrid between N. nepetella and N. racemosa.
N. nepetella or lesser catmint, is a native of the Meditteranean region, where its native habitat ranges from France, Italy, and Spain in the north to Algeria and Morroco in the south. It’s naturalized across part of the U.S. and into Central America.
N. racemosa is native to Turkey, the Caucuses region, and northern Iran. Both N. nepetella and N. racemosa are smaller species that only grow to about 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
Popular N. × faassenii cultivars commonly found in garden nurseries include:
- ‘Walker’s Low” is a popular cultivar with purple flowers
- ‘Junior Walker’ is compact with lavender blossoms
- ‘Blue Wonder’ has blue flowers
- ‘Six Hills Giant’ grows to three feet tall and has light blue flowers
Uses and Benefits of Catmint
Nepeta has long been valued for its many culinary and medicinal uses. N. nepetella is a prized ingredient in Tuscan cuisine, with a similar flavor to oregano.
In European medical traditions, the dried leaves were used in tea form to treat fever, stomach ailments, bronchitis, and as a diuretic. Records indicate that the plant may have been used to treat depression, colic, and insomnia. This may be due to chemical compounds in the plant that can have a mildly sedative effect. It can also be used in a poultice to relieve swelling and irritation from insect bites.
Nepeta contains nepetalactone, an oil that’s been shown to repel certain insect pests, including mosquitoes. These compounds may have the potential to aid in crop protection and other potential benefits.
The plants also tend to repel other, larger garden pests, such as deer and rodents. However, pollinators such as bees and butterflies are attracted to the catmint’s long-lasting flowers. Beekeepers often plant it near hives to attract bees.
The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Catmint Flowers
Catmint flowers bloom in various colors, from deep blue to purple and lavender. In the language of flowers, catmint is associated with happiness, love, and fertility.
A gift of catmint can be a way to let someone know how happy they make you or how much you love them. You can also use catmint to tell someone you’d like to be in a romantic relationship with them.
Catmint’s associations with fertility and its lovely blue and purple blossoms make it a perfect addition to a bouquet for a baby shower or to welcome a new baby.
And speaking of colors, different hues had different meanings to the Victorians. For instance, purple flowers were often associated with elegance, royalty, success, and romance. In contrast, blue flowers often symbolize peace, harmony, openness, or even sympathy.
The meanings associated with catmint mean it’s easy to craft a floral gift that sends a specific message to someone you care about is easy.
Nepeta is also associated with strength and courage. It may attract good spirits, good luck, and even friendship. Some old folk wisdom says to hold some catmint in your hand until it grows warm, then take someone else’s hand. Your friendship will last as long as you keep the catmint that they touched.
Gardeners have been growing and enjoying different varieties of Nepeta for centuries. Evidence indicates that catmint was grown in old Roman kitchen gardens. Translated recipes from ancient Rome — believed to be written between 4 BC and 70 AD — show the use of catmint in salads.
Thousands of years later, the plants are more popular than ever. Nepeta even appears in poems such as “August” by MJ Werthman White and “Liberty Tree” by Rene Mullen.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Catmint
Given Catmint’s associations with love and fertility, a gift of the lovely purple flowers is ideal for joyful occasions, such as a baby shower, new baby, wedding, or anniversary.
They can also symbolize happiness, making them a good choice for a happy birthday and congratulations gifts. Associations with strength and courage are appropriate sentiments if you’re wishing someone well or saying a good job.
Catmint Flower FAQs:
What do catmint flowers symbolize?
Catmint flowers are associated with love, fertility, and happiness. The flowers may also symbolize courage and strength.
Do catmint symbolize love?
In the language of flowers, catmint flowers are associated with love. They’re a great way to let someone know you love them.
Do catmint come back every year?
Catmint plants are perennials, so they come back every year.
How long do Catmint flowers last?
Catmint flowers are prized for their long-lasting nature. The plants often bloom from spring through summer with fragrant blue and purple flowers that attract bees and pollinators.
Are Catmint toxic?
Catmint plants are not toxic; in fact, they have culinary and medical uses. However, deer and rodents are repelled by the plants, probably because of their strong, spicy aroma.
Catmint Flowers – The Final Word
For a long-flowering plant that produces colorful almost all season long, you can’t go wrong with catmint. As an added bonus, deer and rodents are repelled by Nepeta’s aromatic foliage and flowers, while pollinators are attracted. Along with their culinary, medicinal, and insecticidal benefits, these lovely flowers send positive messages, too. In the language of flowers, a gift of catmint symbolizes happiness, love, and fertility while sending messages of strength and courage.
Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.
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