Eating honeysuckles as a kid probably triggers some happy memories, but did you know that there’s more to this lovely flower than its sweet taste and amazing aroma? Honeysuckle is actually impressively health boosting. The flowers, seeds and leaves of the plant have many medicinal uses.
What can honeysuckle be used for? Uses are wide ranging and include:
- Upper respiratory tract infections, including colds, the flu and pneumonia
- Other viral as well as bacterial infections
- Digestive disorders including pain and inflammation of the small intestine (enteritis)
- Headaches and fever
- Urinary disorders
What Is Honeysuckle?
Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are common garden plants with highly fragrant flowers. There are hundreds of species that grow around the world, mainly in temperate climates. All of the plants belong to the genus Lonicera of the family Caprifoliaceae.
Does honeysuckle smell good? You probably already know the answer to this question. With a sweet floral perfume-like aroma, it’s always enjoyable to catch a whiff of a honeysuckles. It may come as a surprise that this well-known plant actually holds many potential health benefits too.
1. Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties
Not all honeysuckle berries are safe to consume, but Lonicera caerulea has edible berries that research studies show to have powerful and impressive health properties. For starters, they are very high in disease-fighting antioxidants. Another 2017 study using animals published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry points toward the ability of Lonicera caerulea berry polyphenols to modulate inflammation, which can equate to many more potential benefits since we know that inflammation is at the root of most diseases.
2. Immune Boosting and Antiviral
The Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is a variety commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has yellow-white flowers and black berries. In a 2018 research study, these honeysuckle berries demonstrated their ability to aid immune system function. The berries were able to act as an immunomodulatory agent for immunosuppressed mice subjects and significantly increased natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells (also known as NK cells) are a type of white blood cell that have the ability to kill off viruses as well as tumor cells.
3. Natural Scent
Like neroli essential oil, the scent of honeysuckles is an amazing natural perfume in and of itself. It can be hard to find a pure honeysuckle essential oil, but if you can find one, it makes for an incredible personal scent mixed with a little carrier oil like coconut oil. It’s also an uplifting addition to diffusers, baths and DIY cleaning products and linen sprays.
4. Oral Health
Honeysuckles are sometimes an ingredient in natural gargles and mouthwashes due to their astringent and antibacterial properties. To create a homemade mouthwash, you can combine and boil two cups of water with a half cup of fresh honeysuckle leaves. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for five additional minutes. Of course, don’t put the mixture in your mouth until it has completely cooled down.
A research study published in 2015 reveals how honeysuckle may hold the potential to help people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers administered Lonicera japonica to diabetic rats for four weeks at dose of 100 mg/kg. After four weeks of this treatment, Lonicera japonica decreased high blood glucose levels and insulin resistance in the animal subjects. Overall, the study results show the anti-diabetic effects of this variety of honeysuckle in type 2 diabetic rats.
Another research study published in 2014 demonstrates how an extract of Lonicera japonica possesses potent anti-inflammatory abilities that can help to reduce the severity of diabetic nephropathy. The extract of the flowering aerial parts inhibited the problematic inflammatory response that leads to the nephropathy.
It appears that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of honeysuckle mentioned earlier make it a natural remedy that may be able to help people suffering from arthritis. A research study published in The Journal of Functional Foods highlights the phenolic compounds found in the berries of the Lonicera caerulea plant.
This study orally administered Lonicera caerulea extract to animal subjects with adjuvant-induced arthritis and observed a suppression in the production of inflammatory enzymes in the spleen. Beneficial antioxidant enzymes including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) were also recovered after administration of the extract while transaminases (often referred to as liver enzymes) were inhibited. This is significant since elevated liver enzymes are often found in patients with various types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Uses in Traditional Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the honeysuckle flower links with the lung, stomach and large intestine meridians. It’s also considered to have cold properties, making it an excellent natural remedy for removing heat from the body as well as toxins. TCM practitioners use the flower both internally and externally for a variety of health conditions including skin infections, ulcers, fevers and inflammatory conditions.
Native Americans were known to boil the fresh honeysuckle leaves with water to use on wounds to encourage healing.
Is a honeysuckle poisonous? Caution is generally advised when ingesting the leaves or stems of honeysuckles because they contain saponins, which can be dangerous if taken in large enough amounts.
While honeysuckles are not generally considered to be very toxic, it is important to make sure you and your pets avoid consuming any of the poisonous types of honeysuckles. In large quantities, consumption of poisonous plant parts can cause serious illness. If you believe you or your pet has consumed a poisonous plant of any variety, seek emergency medical care right away if necessary. You can also contact the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for more information.
There are many honeysuckles native to North America, but some have been imported from Asia. Asian varieties such as Japanese honeysuckles (Lonciera japonica) are considered invasive in many American states and can crowd out other plants. Does honeysuckle kill trees? Lonciera japonica can also grow up and tightly around the trunk of trees, possibly causing the tree to die.
Honeysuckle vs. Jasmine vs. Catnip vs. Poison Sumac
Both honeysuckles and jasmine grow as a vine and give off incredible natural scents. While there are several edible species of honeysuckles, the only jasmine species that is edible is Jasminum sambac. All of the other species of jasmine are poisonous. Like honeysuckles, many cosmetic products use the scent of jasmine.
Comparing honeysuckles to catnip may seem strange, but honeysuckles can be a replacement for this herb that drives many, but not all cats crazy. Honeysuckles are known to elicit a response in cats that don’t respond to catnip. The specific cat-loving variety is Lonicera tatarica or Tatarian honeysuckles.
Honeysuckles and poison sumac can both grow invasively in North America. While poison sumac is always generally considered poisonous to humans, many varieties of honeysuckles have safely been used both internally and externally for centuries.
Where to Find and How to Grow
If you don’t have access to fresh honeysuckles, you can find dried varieties at some Asian markets or online herb suppliers. Health stores are another place you may find honeysuckle in the form of powders, infusions and decoctions.
Growing and caring for honeysuckles is quite easy. Physically speaking, there are two main types of honeysuckle, a climber or a vine and a honeysuckle bush/shrub. The climbers do well in fertile and moist yet well-drained soil and will produce more flowers if the top of the vine is in full sun. A honeysuckle shrub also does well in well-drained soil, but it can be planted in full sun or partial shade.
Coral honeysuckle is a great choice if you’re looking to attract hummingbirds in your yard. This variety of honeysuckle vine has green leaves and coral-colored flowers. Coral honeysuckle also has bright red honeysuckle fruit. Cape honeysuckle is another option you can grow that has brightly colored flowers, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Bush honeysuckle is a spreading shrub that can grow up to 20 feet high with flowers that change from white to yellow and red berries. If you want a plant that provides edible fruit, the sweetberry honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea) shrub is a perfect choice. It grows well in full sun in zones two through seven.
If you don’t have a lot of room, some varieties of honeysuckle can grow well in containers as long as they get enough water and plant food. Just remember to provide a trellis for your container vine or have the plant hang in a basket. Pruning is a good practice that helps honeysuckles to grow better.
How do you prune honeysuckle? You can do some basic maintenance pruning by using sharp pruning sheers to cut off any dead parts of the vine. After the plant blooms in spring and the flowers have died off, you can use pruning shears to cut off the tips of the stems. This can encourage better growth in the following blooming season.
What honeysuckle is edible? Some varieties that are edible include Lonicera japonica, Lonicera periclymenum and Lonicera ciliosa.
To make honeysuckle tea, pour one cup of boiling water over one tablespoon of dried flowers.
Some other tasty recipes using honeysuckles:
- Honeysuckle sorbet (use coconut sugar instead of refined sugar)
- Honeysuckle mint vinaigrette
- Honeysuckle blossom jelly (again, opt to use a healthier sweetener rather than refined sugar)
- Honeysuckle iced tea
Flower essences, or flower remedies, are infusions made from the flowering part of a plant. As a flower essence, honeysuckles are considered to be helpful if you want to let go of old memories and move ahead with one’s life. Practitioners who use flower essences also say it’s a flower that can help to age gracefully and be more courageous. With its lovely fragrance, honeysuckle is often the featured scent in a variety of cosmetic products including lotions, soaps and perfumes.
Risks and Side Effects
At this time, there is no standard dosage of honeysuckle. An appropriate dose depends upon several factors, including a user’s health status.
Is honeysuckle safe? It can be safe for internal and external human use as long as you are using a non-poisonous variety/part of the plant. Symptoms of poisoning include stomach pain, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat and vomiting. These unwanted side effects are typically mild and only occur with ingestion of large amounts of the plant.
It’s also key that you don’t have any conditions and are not taking any medication. If you’re pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are currently taking medication, check with your doctor before using honeysuckle.
According to WebMD, It’s recommended to stop using honeysuckle at least two weeks before surgery because it may slow blood clotting. For people that are allergic to this plant family, skin contact with honeysuckles can cause a rash.
Is honeysuckle poisonous to dogs? Yes, every part of the plant is highly toxic to dogs. If you believe your dog or any other pet has been poisoned, seek immediate veterinary care.
Honeysuckle is known to interact with medications that slow blood clotting (anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs). Since honeysuckle may slow blood clotting, taking it with drugs that also slow clotting can raise the risk of bruising and bleeding. Consult with your doctor before beginning use.
- Are honeysuckle edible? Check a plant guide to make sure your local honeysuckles are safe for use. Some edible varieties include Lonicera japonica, Lonicera periclymenum and Lonicera ciliosa.
- Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine commonly use Lonicera japonica for removal of heat and toxins from the body.
- Research demonstrates the potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-boosting, anti-viral and anti-tumor abilities of honeysuckles.
- The medicinal use of honeysuckles is known to occur for the following health concerns: upper respiratory tract infections including colds, the flu and pneumonia, other viral as well as bacterial infections, digestive disorders including pain and inflammation of the small intestine (enteritis), headaches and fever, urinary disorders, diabetes and arthritis.