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14 Herbs Safe for Cats — and 9 To Avoid

Est. read time: 6 min.

Herbs have many culinary and medicinal benefits—and not just for humans! Pet parents may be surprised to learn that there are a number of herbs safe for cats. You might even consider planting a few of these herbs as a cute little cat garden. Find out which herbs are safe for cats (and may even benefit them!)—and which ones to avoid.

Herbs safe for cats

The best way to be safe in introducing these herbs and avoiding overdoses and unanticipated negative reactions is to consult with your veterinarian before trying herbs safe for cats.


dried valerian root - herbs safe for cats
Dried valerian root © 3268zauber / CC-BY-3.0

The lesser-known alternative to catnip and silver vine, valerian also acts as a stimulant on cats. This pungent herb is known to transform lazy (chubby) cats into the feline equivalent of Richard Simmons. Valerian is a great option for your indoor cat garden. Oddly enough, valerian is used among humans for relaxation.

Witch Hazel

Believe it or not, veterinarians sometimes suggest using witch hazel to treat feline acne. Simply dampen cotton balls with witch hazel and wipe your cat’s chin once or twice a day.


echinacea plant - herbs safe for cats
Echinacea © Diego Delso / CC-BY-3.0

This herb is said to help support good immune health in cats. For example, cats that experience recurrent upper respiratory infections may benefit from echinacea. Many supplements are available over the counter, but it is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine dosage and ultimate necessity.

Licorice Root

Licorice root is known as a “natural cortisone.” It has various antioxidant and healing properties that can be used to reduce inflammation and re-establish a cat’s antioxidant balance. Licorice root can be used to soothe itchy kitties with allergies, endocrine and digestive issues, as well as respiratory problems like colds. There is much more research to be done to determine all of the benefits of this herb, but it has had promising results in recent research with dogs experiencing prostate lesions.  

Cat’s Claw 

cat's claw herb for cats

The name “Cat’s Claw” for Uncaria tomentosa comes from the plant’s hook-like thorns resembling a cat’s claws. It has many well-known benefits in human medicine that can be applied to kitty care too. Cat’s claw has anti-inflammatory properties, offers immune support, and may help modulate the immune system. (Image: © Vangeliq.petrova / CC-BY-4.0)

Dandelion Root

dandelion root - herbs safe for cats
Dandelion root

While dandelion root has many beneficial properties in veterinary holistic medicine, it is most commonly used to help promote healthy digestion and liver detoxification by increasing bile flow through the liver/gallbladder. It also has diuretic effects that may be beneficial for animals with heart disease. Additionally, it has been useful for some cases of constipation, pancreatitis, and triaditis (concurrent inflammation of the pancreas, liver and small intestines) in cats. The most important part of using this herb for its medicinal properties is consulting with your veterinarian to ensure that the correct product, dose, and formulation are being given. 


calendula plant - herbs safe for cats
Calendula © KENPEI / CC-BY-3.0

This herb is used topically for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Clinical experience suggests calendula can accelerate wound healing, especially of the skin.


goldenseal plant - herbs safe for cats
Goldenseal © Eric Hunt / CC-BY-4.0

Historically, Goldenseal has been noted to have a whole host of positive effects for users: antibacterial, immuno-stimulating, anti-inflammatory, and more. Another herb typically used topically for its antibacterial properties—in other words, you might consider using this as a natural disinfectant and treatment on wounds.

Culinary herbs

The following herbs for cats may not offer medicinal benefits, but they are flavorful and considered safe for felines:

  • Basil
  • Cilantro/coriander
  • Dill
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme


catnip plant - herbs safe for cats
Catnip plant © Muffet / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Let’s end with the obvious: catnip! This herb, which belongs to the mint family, contains an essential oil called nepetalactone that drives many cats wild. (Not all cats carry the catnip-reacting gene.)

Caveat: It’s important to note that if a cat consumes large quantities of catnip (or any garden mint variety), he may experience vomiting and diarrhea. Always supervise the amount of loose catnip or catnip buds your cat is exposed to.

Herbs to avoid

Garlic and chives

Herbs from the allium family

Garlic and chives are by and large the most dangerous herbs for your cat. In fact, all members of the allium family—including onions, leeks, scallions, and shallots—are toxic to felines. Even a small ingestion of these can cause damage to your cat’s red blood cells, leading to anemia or even death.


marijuana plant
Marijuana plant © Jennifer Martin / CC-BY-4.0

Unfortunately, Bob Marley’s statement that “herb is the healing of a nation” is not inclusive of cats. Marijuana is toxic to both cats and dogs; ingestion of the plant in any form (including edibles, tinctures, etc.) may result in the following symptoms of poisoning: prolonged depression, vomiting, incoordination, sleepiness or excitation, hypersalivation, dilated pupils, low blood pressure, low body temperature, seizure, coma, and, rarely, death.


German chamomile plant
German chamomile © JanRehschuh / CC-BY-3.0

Many sites list chamomile in the column of herbs safe for cats; however, this is a dangerous generalization, as some types of chamomile are toxic to cats and dogs alike. While German chamomile is considered safe, English/Garden/Roman/True chamomile can cause contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, and allergic reactions in pets.

St. John’s Wort

St. John's Wort plant
St. John’s Wort © Leslie Seaton / CC-BY-2.0

If your cat goes outside, avoid growing St. John’s Wort where they can consume it. Ingesting enough of this herb can cause photosensitization in pets (ulcerative and exudative dermatitis).

Other herbal irritants

Avoid growing the following herbs in your cat garden, as they can cause vomiting and diarrhea in your pets:

  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Tarragon

The bottom line is this: Herbs absolutely have their place in pet care and provide many benefits to our feline friends. However, we recommend talking to your veterinarian before introducing significant or regular usage. You can also check out ASPCA’s complete list of toxic and non-toxic plants and herbs for cats.

Still scooping? Try a self-cleaning litter box.


black cat with 14 herbs safe for cats and 9 to avoid