Edible Wild Plants: Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica)

Japanese HoneysuckleThere are nearly 180 different know honeysuckle species, most native to Europe and Asia, with only about twenty indigenous to the US. Honeysuckle is most often a vine, usually growing to a max of 20 feet. Some grow in a shrub-like form. Many species (especially those from Asia) are sold in the US for their beauty and for there attractiveness to hummingbirds.

The honeysuckle seen here is Lonicera japonica or Japanese Honeysuckle, which is one of the two exotic invasive species of honeysuckle found growing wild in the United States (the other being the shrub Lonicera maackii). In the eastern United States and Hawaii Lonicera japonica is responsible for significant environmental damage, destroying and displacing native forest species.

It is easy to identify, producing potently fragrant white and yellow flowers throughout the summer months. It grows prodigiously along forest edges and semi-forested areas.

Most cultivated (ornamental garden) honeysuckle is no longer edible, but wild honeysuckle (Japanese Honeysuckle or Lonicera Japonica) contains a sweet nectar that’s just like… you guessed it, honey.

Japanese Honeysuckle Berries

Some honeysuckles have poisonous berries and some do not. Red Tartarian (pinkish flowers and orange/red berries) is definitely poisonous, as is Lonicera Japonica (Japanese honeysuckle with the yellowish flowers and black berries).

Edible Parts

  • Leaves
  • Flowers

Leaves - cooked. The parboiled leaves are used as a vegetable. Some caution is advised, see notes above on toxicity.

Warning: The leaves contain saponins. Saponins are quite toxic but are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. They can be found in many common foods such as some beans. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will normally remove most of the saponins.

Flowers - sucked for their sweet nectar, used as a vegetable or made into a syrup and puddings. A tea is made from the leaves, buds and flowers.

Japanese Honeysuckle Nectar

Uses

Medicinal Uses

The stems and flower buds are alternative to antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, depurative, diuretic, febrifuge.

The plant is also used to reduce blood pressure. The stems are used internally in the treatment of acute rheumatoid arthritis, mumps and hepatitis. The stems are harvested in the autumn and winter, and are dried for later use. The stems and flowers are used together as an infusion in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections (including pneumonia) and dysentery.

An infusion of the flower buds is used in the treatment of a wide range of ailments including syphilitic skin diseases and tumours, bacterial dysentery, colds, enteritis, pain, swellings etc. Experimentally, the flower extracts have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and are antibacterial, antiviral and tuberculostatic. Externally, the flowers are applied as a wash to skin inflammations, infectious rashes and sores. The flowers are harvested in early morning before they open and are dried for later use.

The plant has a similar action to Forsythia suspensa and is usually used in combination with that species to achieve a stronger action. This plant has become a serious weed in many areas of N. America, it might have the potential to be utilized for proven medical purposes.

Japanese Honeysuckle Overgrowing a Fence

Japanese Honeysuckle Overgrowing a Fence

The Japanese Honeysuckle flower is of high medicinal value in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is called rěn dōng téng (Chinese: 忍冬藤; literally “winter enduring vine”) or jīn yín huā (Chinese: 金銀花; literally “gold silver flower”). Alternate Chinese names include Er Hua and Shuang Hua. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and is used (often in combination with Forsythia suspensa) to dispel heat and remove toxins, including carbuncles, fevers, influenza and ulcers. In Korean, it is called geumeunhwa. The dried leaves are also used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Jin Yin Hua (Japanese Honeysuckle, Flos Lonicerae Japonicae) is notable for its inclusion in the traditional Chinese medicine herbal formula Honeysuckle and Forsythia Powder. In pinyin, this formula is called Yin Qiao San. Traditional indications for use of this formula include fever, headache, cough, thirst, and sore throat.For indications such as this, it is common to find Japanese Honeysuckle paired in Chinese medicine herbal formulations with Forsythia (Lian Qiao, Fructus Forsythiae Suspensae). According to Chinese medicine, these herbs, when combined, have a synergistic medicinal effect to address indications such as fever with headache and sore throat. This is why these two herbs are considered “paired herbs.”

In Chinese medicine, Jin Yin Hua is classfied with a temperature property of cold. The cold designation specifically refers to, in this case, to Jin Yin Hua’s antitoxin, anti-bacterial, antipyretic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Also, according to traditional Chinese medicine, Jin Yin Hua is contraindicated for patients with medical conditions that are diagnosed as deficient and cold in nature unless combined with other herbs to balance the temperature nature of Jin Yin Hua. In layperson terms, Jin Yin Hua is used in Chinese medicine to address what are called excess heat conditions such as fevers, skin rashes, and sore throat. Excess heat conditions are essentially inflammatory processes involving heat, redness, pain, and swelling often due to external pathogenic factors such as bacteria and viruses. The cold nature of Jin Yin Hua is considered to cool the heat nature of the heat related conditions. For example, Jin Yin Hua’s antibacterial properties can help to cool a fever. In this case, the cold herb treats the heat condition. However, should a patient present with what is termed as a cold condition such as aversion to cold with cold limbs, cold and pain in the abdomen, and abdominal pain relieved by warmth, then Jin Yin Hua’s cold nature is said to be contraindicated for treating the pre-existing cold condition. Should an herbalist choose to use Jin Yin Hua in an herbal formula for a patient with a cold condition, he/she would then choose to balance the temperature of Jin Yin Hua with another herb that is warming in nature.

Fishing

Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Other Uses

The plant is said to be a natural insecticidal. The stems have been used in making baskets.

Where Does Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica) Grow?

Japanese Honeysuckle Grow Area

How To Identify Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica)

Leaves

Japanese Honeysuckle Leaves

Leaves are hairy and arranged oppositely along the stem.  Leaves are ovate to elliptic in outline, reaching 3 inches in length and 2 inches in width.  Leaves occur on short petioles that range from 3 to 10 mm in length.

Stems

Japanese Honeysuckle Stems

Climb on other vegetation or trail along the ground.  Stems become woody with maturity.  Stems are usually hairy but sometimes may be without hairs.

Flowers

Japanese Honeysuckle Flowers

Flowers occur in pairs and arise from the positions between the stems and leaves (leaf axils).  Flower pairs occur on short flower stalks (peduncles).  Individual flowers are very fragrant, and are white to yellow in color.

Fruit

Japanese Honeysuckle Berries

A round, black berry approximately 6 mm in diameter.

4 Comments

4 Responses to “Edible Wild Plants: Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica)”

  1. Edward Davis says:

    My friend recommended me this to lower my blood cholesterol. He said this is very effective and it even stabilized his blood pressure permanently. I will have to try this one day…

  2. Diann Dirks says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for the work involved. Please put me on your mailing list.
    Diann Dirks
    Certified Permaculture Designer, Auburn, Ga.

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