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
Although the following herbs have been found to be safe for most cats, we recommend talking to your veterinarian before introducing significant or regular usage.
The lesser-known alternative to catnip, valerian also acts as a stimulant on cats. This pungent herb is known to transform lazy (read: 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.
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.
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.
PetMD reports that “as a natural cortisone, licorice root can be used to soothe itchy kitties with allergies, endocrine and digestive issues, as well as respiratory problems like colds, since it soothes mucus membranes.”
Cat’s Claw and Dandelion Root
These aptly named herbs for cats can also help with feline allergies. In addition, cat’s claw may help modulate the immune system, while dandelion root can help promote healthy digestion and liver detoxification.
This herb is used topically for its anti-inflammatory properties. Clinical experience suggests calendula can accelerate wound healing.
Another herb used topically for its antibacterial properties is goldenseal—in other words, you might consider using this as a natural disinfectant on wounds.
The following herbs for cats may not offer medicinal benefits, but they are flavorful and considered safe for felines:
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
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.
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.
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
If your cat goes outside, avoid growing St. John’s Wort where he 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:
Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before trying herbs safe for cats. You can also check out ASPCA’s complete list of toxic and non-toxic plants (and herbs!) for cats.
Cover photo: © Dwight Sipler / CC-BY-2.0