Cat Thyme (Teucrium marum) Growth and Uses
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Meara Schreiber
Posted on: July 29, 1999

I am writing to request some information about Teuchrium marum (cat thyme), a plant that is mentioned only briefly in your catalogue. I would love a description of the appearance of the herb, as well as to know the dimensions of its growth (height, spread ect). I would also like to know a little about the conditions under which it thrives (soil type, water requirements etc), and why it is attractive to cats. I’m assuming that it is a shrubby perennial, like most of the other Teucriums – is this true? And is it edible to cats and/or humans? And are there any other uses (medicinal, aromatic, culinary etc)? So many questions, I hope that someone can get back to me ASAP...

The plant is described in more detail in Margaret Grieve’s ‘A Modern Herbal". It is very briefly mentioned in other books such as Deni Bown’s "Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses" and Andrew Chevallier’s "The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants" (all books available from Richters).

According to Bown, cat thyme is a source of "herba mariveri" but she does not explain what this is; we assume it is a herbal medicine. According to Chevallier, cat thyme is useful for gallbladder and stomach problems. Grieve says that it is useful for nervous complaints among others, and can be used as a snuff for "disorders of the head". The sharp, penetrating odour induces sneezing.

The plant is a tender shrub from southern Europe where it reaches a meter in height (3-4 feet), but it rarely reaches that height in cooler areas. It is said to be hardy in zones 5-10, but probably not reliably so in zones 5 and 6, surving some winters and not others. The height and spread are 30-45 cm (1-1.5 feet). The plant thrives best in dry, well-draining soil.

Why cat thyme is attractive to cats is not known as far as we know. That the odour is offensive to the human nose and not so to the feline nose, is not surprising because cats are also attracted to the strong smelling roots of valerian. Unlike catnip, the well known cat-attractant that stimulates cats sexually, we have no scientific rationale for cat thyme’s appeal because it has not been studied yet.

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