[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 45 – Honeysuckle is a Great Healing Herb! (Part of the Plants-to-Teach-Your-Kids-to-Identify Series)
Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.
Honeysuckle is a plant that has divided opinions about her. Though North America has many native species, there is an invasive, Lonicera japonica, that grows rampant, especially here in the midwest, choking out everything in her reach.
Friend and herbalist Rebekah Dawn has observed that Honeysuckle seems to come to areas that have been disturbed, rooting firmly in the poor soil, almost impossible to pull up. However, when that area has been healed, and balance restored, Honeysuckle freely gives up her hold and can be easily removed from her stronghold.
Indeed, Honeysuckle, in my own observation, is an edge dweller, often hovering between the tree line and farm field, generally farm fields that are over worked and under nourished, offering a protective barrier between the earth that is being depleted of all its value and the woods which hold onto their nourishment until the last tree is removed. In the small wooded lots behind my farm, Honeysuckle is thick, forcing us to crawl to reach the wood’s interior, giving away finally to the shaded vegetation that grows untouched.
When we first moved to our property back in early 2005, Honeysuckle was everywhere. We had both L. japonica and L. maackii to contend with, she had taken over the edges of the yard, the pasture and into the woods. We fought diligently to remove her before we began to understand the lessons and medicine she offered. Now, we live a lively dance with her, as she provides nourishment for our goats, medicine for ourselves and healing for our land.
There are 4 species which are considered invasive to North America and New Zealand: Lonicera japonica, L. maackii, L. morrowii, and L. tatarica. We have both L. japonica and L. maackii growing in our area. Ironically, L. maackii is an endangered species in her native land (Japan).
Generally, the flowers are used for medicine though some herbalists use the leaves and/or the stems as medicine as well. The leaves make a nice beverage tea and have some actions which are stronger than the flowers. The flowers should be picked before or right as they open. Though some species of Honeysuckle have pretty pink or orange blossoms, L. japonica, L. maackii and L. morrowii all have white flowers which turn yellow as they age. Skip over the yellowed flowers, they have been open too long and won’t offer much medicine. If you harvest right as the flowers start to open for the first time in the spring, it is easy to simply pinch off the bunches on each stem, collecting the flower buds and leaves together to make a nice blend. If you have bush Honeysuckle, it is easy to break off a branch and strip the leaves and flower buds off by closing your fingers around the branch and running it down the length of the branch.
Some of the berries are edible but do not eat any of the berries unless you receive verification that the species that grows in your backyard is a non-toxic species. Most of the invasive species are toxic to some degree so it’s best to remain on the side of caution with them.
Have you ever picked a Honeysuckle flower and sucked the nectar from the stem? The next time you have a chance, pick a flower and nibble on it to see if you can notice her energetics. When you do so, you will notice that she is sweet and bitter, cooling and drying. We use Honeysuckle especially for hot, damp conditions. I’ll talk about this a bit later.
Nutritionally, Honeysuckle contains calcium, phosphorus and protein.
Medicinally, those fragrant and delicious flowers and leaves have a lot to offer us. Honeysuckle is alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, antiviral, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, febrifuge, hypotensive, laxative, nervine, refrigerant, and vulnerary in action. Let’s take a closer look…
Honeysuckle has an affinity for the lungs, stomach and large intestine with the stem also having an affinity for the limbs and joints of the body.
Honeysuckle is most often known for her medicinal use in treating colds and the flu, especially when there is a lot of heat and moistness involved. Respiratory conditions with fever, lots of phlegm are Honeysuckle’s calling card. This is because Honeysuckle is antiviral, antibacterial, diaphoretic, expectorant, febrifuge and astringent. She combines these actions to help wipe out illness quickly. In China, Honeysuckle is used extensively for treating pneumonia, influenza, colds and asthma.
As an antimicrobial, Honeysuckle can be useful to help treat salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus as well as urinary tract infections, ulcers and acute hepatitis. Honeysuckle helps to flush toxins from the body with her depurative actions.
Her pleasant taste makes her an easy medicine to swallow, making her a favorite for kids everywhere. She is also very gentle for kids but also tough enough to work on big illnesses without batting a stamen. In fact, she is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (flowers, leaves and stems) for the treatment of lung and breast cancer.
Honeysuckle is often combined with Forsythia for inflammatory issues and cancer or Elderflower for fevers, influenza and respiratory infections.
As a refrigerant, Honeysuckle is a great cooling herb, making her a perfect sipping tea for summertime when you’re overheated. You’ll find the taste to be pleasant and mild.
Katherine Weber-Turcotte uses the flower essence for helping to gain perspective on the past. Edward Bach, the person who made flower essences popular, states that a person in a negative Honeysuckle state is physically in the present but mentally stuck in the past.
As a nervine, Honeysuckle is relaxing to the nervous system. Herbalist Emily Allen CH & LMT of Gypsy Garden Herbs has found it to be effective for a client suffering from homesickness (being lost in the past), panic attacks and anxiety, combining both leaves and flowers in her elixir.
Over and over I see Honeysuckle working similarly to Elderflower in her actions. She is not only wonderful for feverish conditions but also for soothing and healing skin afflictions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne. In fact, Honeysuckle works wonders for all types of skin afflictions, including rashes, poison ivy and oak, abscesses, swelling (especially where heat is involved), wounds and boils. Honeysuckle poultices sooth burns, helping to draw out the heat while using her vulnerary action to help heal.
The Native Americans traditionally used Honeysuckle flowers, leaves, bark and roots. Though the root is not commonly used today (probably because of the difficulty in digging the plant combined with the abundance of plant material above the ground), the root was used often as a tea to be a cure for senility, lung problems, worms in pregnant women, and urinary problems.
While I do not recommend anyone plant Honeysuckle in their garden (unless it is a native species), I do recommend harvesting the plant as much as possible in the wild to use her benefits. The leaves and flowers can be used in large quantities for some many ailments, they should be a part of every herbalist’s (and budding herbalist’s) apothecary.
Honeysuckle Infused honey is one of my favorite Honeysuckle remedies. Here is my recipe for it. This honey is good for soothing burning, sore throats and moist, hot coughs.
You will need:
Fresh Honeysuckle flowers
Jar with lid
Butter knife or chopstick
Fill your jar loosely with flowers. Fill with honey and stir with the knife or chopstick. Add more honey and stir again. Repeat until the jar is full.
After 2 – 3 weeks, your honey is ready to use. Add a spoonful to tea or hot lemonade or eat as is for easing sore throats and coughs.
This is an excerpt from this month’s issue of Herbal Roots zine, titled “Heady Honeysuckle“. You can grab this issue for only $3.99 through the end of this month. We are also giving away this issue to 3 lucky winners on Monday, March 30, 2015, see our blog for details!