Nepeta cataria is a short-lived perennial, herbaceous plant that grows to be 50–100 cm (20–40 in) tall and wide, and that blooms from late spring through autumn. In appearance, N. cataria resembles a typical member of the mint family of plants, featuring brown-green foliage with the characteristic square stem of the plant family Lamiaceae. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to elliptical in shape. The small, bilabiate flowers of N. cataria are fragrant and are either pink in color or white with fine spots of pale purple.
Nepeta cataria is cultivated as an ornamental plant for use in gardens. It is also grown for its attractant qualities to house cats and butterflies.
The plant is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. It can be a repellent for certain insects, including aphids and squash bugs. Catnip is best grown in full sunlight and grows as a loosely branching, low perennial.
Varieties include Nepeta cataria var. citriodora (or N. cataria subsp. citriodora), or "lemon catnip", named after its lemon-scented leaves.