- What Is Honeysuckle?
- Uses of Honeysuckle
- How Can Honeysuckle Benefit You?
- How to Grow Honeysuckle
- Honeysuckle Recipes: How to Make Honeysuckle Tea
- How to Dry and Store Honeysuckle
- Honeysuckle Essential Oil
- There’s More to Honeysuckle Than Meets the Eye
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) incorporates thousands of plants and herbs, all of which offer healing properties. Even ornamental plants that are grown — and known — for their lovely flowers also have a place in TCM. One example is Jin Yin Hua or the Lonicera flower — more commonly known as honeysuckle.
You’ve most likely seen honeysuckle growing alongside the road or creeping up fences as ornamental plants. But these colorful plants are more than just a pretty decoration — they have many practical uses as well. Now is your chance to learn more about the humble honeysuckle.
What Is Honeysuckle?
Honeysuckle refers to the genus Lonicera (family Caprifoliaceae), which includes about 200 plant species. They grow as shrubs or bushes or crawling vines. Honeysuckles can be either deciduous or evergreen, especially those growing in warmer regions. Honeysuckle thrives in almost every state in the U.S. They’re native to temperate zones of both hemispheres and can also be found growing in southern Asia, the Himalayas and even North Africa.1
Honeysuckle flowers, which are yellow to bright red, are known for their lovely fragrance and sweet nectar.2 They are heat-tolerant and make a lovely addition to any garden. Honeysuckle plants are known for their versatility and abundance, which makes growing and caring for them easy.3
Take note, however, that climbing honeysuckle varieties can produce red berries that are loved by birds but are toxic to humans. If ingested, you may experience side effects such as stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.4,5
Two popular subspecies of honeysuckle are American honeysuckle and Japanese honeysuckle. The American native trumpet honeysuckle, or Lonicera sempervirens, is a well-behaved, noninvasive plant in many U.S. areas. In contrast, many states consider Japanese honeysuckle, or Lonicera japonica, to be an invasive species.
Mexican honeysuckle, on the other hand, is not really honeysuckle. Also known as Justicia spicigera or desert honeysuckle,6 it’s actually related to the shrimp plant, another bloom popular in Central Texas.7
Uses of Honeysuckle
The honeysuckle plant itself, whether in vine or shrub form, is often grown for decorative purposes because it’s aesthetically pleasing, brightens up any landscape and attracts wildlife.8 Honeysuckle shrubs are often used to build hedges.9
Meanwhile, raw honeysuckle, as well as products made from it, such as honeysuckle tea and honeysuckle oil, are known for their medicinal benefits. As mentioned, honeysuckle has long been used in Chinese medicine.10 It is just one of several flowers used medicinally in TCM.
How Can Honeysuckle Benefit You?
In TCM, the honeysuckle flower is commonly used to help ease the flu, colds and sore throat. According to Science Alert,11 this plant has the ability to prevent the influenza virus from replicating. An animal study published in the journal Cell Research supports this, as it found that honeysuckle, when combined with a plant microRNA called MIR2911, was able to suppress swine flu and bird flu viruses effectively.12
Xiao Er Ke Chuan Ling Oral Liquid (KCL), an herbal preparation that uses honeysuckle and nine other plants, was found to help treat acute bronchitis in children. A study in the Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine said KCL has antiviral, antibacterial and potent pharmacological actions.13
Honeysuckle was also found to have wound-healing properties in rat models, according to the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal.
Aside from showing antimicrobial activity against Escherichia coli (E. coli), Staphylococcus epidermidis, Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans and Candida tropicalis, an ointment prepared with honeysuckle extract “exhibited potent wound healing capacity as evidenced by the wound contraction in the excision wound model.”14
How to Grow Honeysuckle
As mentioned, honeysuckle is a versatile plant — it can grow in different types of soil, and although it prefers full sun, it can also thrive with some shade. You can grow honeysuckle as ground cover or in containers, which is perfect if you live in a small home or apartment. In addition, you can train honeysuckle to fill a trellis or scale a fence as a crawling vine.15 Gardener’s World offers the following tips to help you grow honeysuckle at home:16
• If your honeysuckle is a “climber,” you can position the roots in a cool, shady place, but be sure their climbing stems have access to sunlight to mimic their natural woodland habitat
• Climbers need support when they’re young, so secure them with galvanized wires and use a garden cane to lead the stems to them
• Berries, which carry honeysuckle seeds, are produced by climbers. However, birds may be attracted to these seeds, so if you want, remove the seeds from the berries. (This can be messy.) Leave the seeds in a cold frame or put them in the refrigerator over winter so they will germinate
• Shrubby honeysuckle varieties must be pruned after they’ve flowered, while evergreen types that grow as a tight hedge can be trimmed during summer
Honeysuckle Recipes: How to Make Honeysuckle Tea
There are numerous recipes that make use of the sweetness of honeysuckle nectar. According to Mother Nature Network, the blooms can be incorporated into sorbets, syrups, jelly and even cupcakes.17 However, if you want to get the benefits of honeysuckle easily (and without the added calories), you can drink honeysuckle tea.
Aside from its potential health benefits, honeysuckle tea is also a delicious and unique beverage you may enjoy. Here’s an easy recipe to make honeysuckle iced tea:18
• A handful of fresh honeysuckle flowers
• 4 cups of water
• Ice cubes
1. Harvest flowers, looking for those that are already open. Pluck them at the base to make sure their nectar is retained and place in a large mason jar.
2. Bring the water to a boil, then remove from heat. Wait two minutes before pouring it into the jar.
3. Let the mixture steep and cool to room temperature.
3. Serve over ice cubes. Store any remaining tea in the refrigerator.
How to Dry and Store Honeysuckle
If you don’t always have access to fresh honeysuckle, or you don’t want the hassle of harvesting honeysuckle flowers daily to make tea, you can dry the blossoms. Here are some tips from GardenGuides.com:19
1. Harvest the flowers in the morning, selecting fully formed blossoms that are about to open. They should be elongated, not the trumpet shape of mature blooms. Old, fully opened flowers may not have as many active chemical compounds as immature ones. Small, tightly closed buds will work, too.
2. Spread the flowers out on a tray and avoid crowding; cover them with layers of cheesecloth.
3. Put the tray in a place with low humidity and good air circulation for a few days to a week. Dry the flowers until they are brittle and break apart easily.
Once dried, store the flowers in an opaque, airtight container. Maintain them in a cool place. Keep them out of direct light to avoid damaging the chemical compounds and essential oils.
Honeysuckle Essential Oil
Made from the flowers, honeysuckle essential oil is one of the most popular products derived from this plant. Aside from its medicinal applications, which are acquired via topical use or inhalation, this oil is also popularly used in cosmetic and bath products, exfoliators and even massage oils.
Organic Facts provides an extensive list of the uses of this oil, from hair care to skin care, and even for diseases like diabetes. However, some caution must be considered before using honeysuckle oil. For example, it may cause redness, irritation and photosensitivity, which may lead to sunburn. Diabetics who are taking blood sugar-lowering medications must use it sparingly because it can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels.20
Remember to exercise caution when using any essential oil. Dilute it with a safe carrier oil before use and always do a skin patch test to check for allergies first.
There’s More to Honeysuckle Than Meets the Eye
Due to its lovely blooms, honeysuckle is most often grown as an ornamental plant. It often rambles along roadsides and along fences. Despite its ready availability, there’s definitely more to honeysuckle than its alluring appearance. While the Chinese have known about its benefits for a long time, others have been slow to appreciate its many medicinal benefits.
Perhaps it’s time for you to try it for yourself. Take a sip of honeysuckle tea or apply honeysuckle essential oil today. You may be surprised by the many health benefits of this common plant.