Teucrium marum, the cat thyme, is a close relative of germander; despite what its name suggests, it is not a thyme. Its small, oval leaves give it a thyme-like appearance, but the musty scent is quite unlike the delicate aroma of thyme, cat thyme is a mounding, tender perennial with grey-green leaves tipped by fragrant pink flowers in summer.
Cat thyme, a native of Spain and the Western Mediterranean, will live through the winter in the open, on a dry soil and in a good situation, when the frosts are not severe, though it is frequently killed in hard winters if unprotected by mats or other covering. Older plants can shrub 3 or 4 feet high if grown in a mild climate.
It has oval leaves, broader at the base, downy beneath, with uncut margins. It is in leaf all year.
The flowers, appearing between July and September, are in one-sided spikes, the corollas are crimson in color.
The leaves and younger branches when fresh, on being rubbed emit a volatile, pungent, aromatic smell, which excites sneezing, but in taste they are somewhat bitter, accompanied with a sensation of heat.
Some, but not all cats prefer it to catnip and will corkscrew themselves into the plant in ecstasy.
Teucrium mare is part of a complex of three subspecies :
- T. marum subsp. marum
- T. marum subsp. occidentale
- T. marum subsp. drosocalyx
Quantitative and qualitative differences in the volatile components within and between taxa have been found.