Honeysuckle Heaven

Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica

Some Honeysuckles are edible, some are toxic

Lonicera japonica: Sweet Treat

The honeysuckle family is iffy for foragers. It has edible members and toxic members, edible parts, toxic parts, and they mix and match. Some are tasty, some can stop your heart. So you really have to make sure of which one you have and which part is usable and how.

On the top of the common list is the Japanese Honeysuckle. It is the honeysuckle kids grew up with, picking the flowers for a taste of sweetness. Young leaves are edible boiled. In my native state of Maine there is the L. villosa, the Waterberry, some times called the Mountain Fly Honeysuckle, with edible berries. It is also sometimes mistakenly called L. caerulea (which is European.) Let me see if I can clear that up: If it refers to L. caerulea as edible it is usually L. villosa which is actually being identified (Waterberry.)  If it is L. caerulea and toxic it is usually the L. caerulea in Europe that is being referred to. How the L. villosa in North America got referred to as L. caerulea is anyone’s guess. Anyway, the Waterberry berries are quite edible.

Blossoms have sweet nectar.

Blossoms have sweet nectar.

Among the edible are: L. affinis, flowers and fruit; L. angustifolia, fruit; L. caprifolium, fruit, flowers to flavor tea; L. chrysantha, fruit; L. ciliosa, fruit, nectar; L. hispidula, fruit; L. involucrata, fruit;  L. kamtchatica, fruit; L. Japonica, boiled leaves, nectar;  L. periclymenum, nectar; L. utahensis, fruit;  L. villosa, fruit; L. villosa solonis, fruit;

Among those that might be edible or come with a warning of try carefully are:  L. canadensis, fruit;  L. Henryi,  flowers, leaves stems; L. venulosa, fruit.

There are about 180 species of honeysuckle, most native to the northern hemisphere. The greatest number of species is in China with over 100. North America and Europe have only about 20 native species each, and the ones in Europe are usually toxic.  Taste is not a measure of toxicity. Some Lonicera have delicious berries that are quite toxic and some have unpalatable berries that are not toxic at all. This is one plant on which taste is not a measure of edibility. Properly identify the species.

Species in the genus are quite consistent. The leaves are opposite, simple, oval. Most loose their leaves in the fall but some are evergreen. Many have sweetly-scented, bell-shaped flowers with a sweet, edible nectar. The fruit can be red, blue or black berry, usually containing several seeds. In most species the berries are mildly poisonous, but a few have edible berries.

Adam Lonitzer, 1528-1586

Adam Lonitzer, 1528-1586

While the flowers are a popular nectar source for bees and butterflies L. japonica is considered an invasive weed throughout the warmer parts of the world, from Fiji to New Zealand to Hawaii. It was introduced to the United States about 200 years ago and because it has no natural enemies here has been spreading ever since. In my own yard it has proven to be very invasive, not only up but out. I’ve had a several year battle with it trying to cover a pear tree and a grape arbor.

Lonicera japonica is pronounced lah-NISS-ser-ruh juh-PAWN-nick-kuh. The genus was named after Adam Lonitzer (1528-1586) a German physician and botanist. Japonica means of Japan

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Lonicera japonica: A vine to 80 feet, twining, trailing, thin, sometimes rooting at nodes, reddish to brownish or purplish, younger parts hairy, often with thin woody bark on the lower stems. Leaves – opposite, with stems or without, leaves  variously hairy above and below but typically densely hairy, no teeth, ovate-oblong, pointed tip, rounded to heart-shaped at base. Flowers white, drying to yellow, a tube, upper lip 4-lobed, bottom lip single-lobed, Stamens 4, filaments hairless, white, style white, stigma green. Fruits black, fleshy globes, not edible.

TIME OF YEAR: Leaves when in season, flowers May to July in northern climes, nearly year round where it is warm

ENVIRONMENT: Landscaping, naturalized in open woods, thickets, roadsides, railroads

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Nectar sucked off the ends of the flowers, young leaves boiled. In China leaves, buds and flowers are made into a tea but the tea may be toxic. Proceed carefully.


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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Joan Norris May 7, 2013, 7:03 pm

    Suggestion: Consider devoting space on your website to pictures of “weeds” you have further information about on your website. I see weeds as I am outdoors that I know I have seen on your site but do not know their name and thus cannot go back and do further investigation. The only way for me to find out what they are is to go through your videos one by one until I find the right one. This is very time consuming. If I had a picture to reference I could then search your site for further information. JUST A SUGGESTION. Do not feel the need to respond unless you would like to. THANKS AGAIN FOR ALL THE WONDERFUL EDUCATION!!!

    • Lana March 24, 2015, 1:14 pm

      Dear Joan,
      I agree. Pictures would be more helpful. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • shon April 2, 2014, 12:14 pm

    can you tell me if coral honeysuckle ( lonicera sempervirens ) is toxic or has toxic parts to it ? That is, if it is toxic to humans or chimpanzees.

    • Green Deane April 2, 2014, 8:21 pm

      I have no evidence that it is edible.

  • Ben April 26, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Hey deane, in all my research I’d never heard of L. ciliosa having edible berries. Do you have a source for that?

    • Green Deane April 26, 2014, 1:30 pm

      Native American Food Plants by Daniel Moerman pp 145. 2010 edition.

  • Lindsey May 29, 2014, 10:56 pm

    I have honeysuckle blooming in my backyard and was researching ways to use it. How do I determine what species it is? I wanted to try making jelly with the blossoms, but now I’m a little apprehensive about doing that.

    • Green Deane May 30, 2014, 6:37 am

      There are a lot of variations. Best to get a local to do it,or you can try posting some pictures of it on the UFO page of the Green Deane Forum.

  • Holly June 4, 2014, 6:40 pm

    Hi~ I was very excited to make Honeysuckle Jelly and then I was informed that some varieties are poisonous I had no idea.. and that was after I tried it :/ So how do I identify which type is which I was just using the nectar… not the berries
    Thank You

  • Miss M June 9, 2014, 11:46 pm

    It’s telling me I’ve sent this comment already, but it’s still sitting here in the comment box. Forgive me if it’s a duplicate! I hope it’ll send it this time.

    Is the calyx/ovary of the L. japonica toxic at all? In other words, must it be removed before using the flowers?

    I’m asking because the jelly recipe I found (in various places) says to cut them off, and I did so. But pictures I see of other recipes seem to show the calyx still on, and the recipes do not mention cutting it off. I can find no other information.

    Removing the calyx from every flower is very time consuming!

    • Miss M August 26, 2014, 2:40 am

      I finally found my answer! You do not have to cut the calyx/ovary off of the base of the flower.

      From Chef Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner, where he makes a honeysuckle sorbet every summer which is a local favorite (and has a recipe for jelly, too):

      ” …Avoid ones that are dark yellow or shriveled as they may be bitter, and for goodness sake, don’t bother pinching off the tiny green bases.

      “Some people think I actually do that at the restaurant, or use just the stamens because that’s their childhood experience with honeysuckles,” Smith says with a chuckle. “If I did that, I’d never get around to making anything.”


  • henry fieldseth July 31, 2014, 3:57 pm

    Why do they call it “fly” honeysuckle?

  • Atara May 28, 2015, 11:29 am

    Yes I eat the ones at the top I break out. In. Hives. Did I eat wrong ones?

  • Troy June 1, 2015, 3:14 pm

    I’m sorry, but without pictures the text doesn’t mean much more than some honeysuckles are toxic and some aren’t. But thank you anyway; I had no idea some honeysuckle were toxic. I do appreciate your mentioning most toxic honeysuckle are in Europe.

    • Green Deane June 2, 2015, 10:59 am

      There are pictures.

    • John Ramos September 23, 2015, 12:41 am

      You have to do some of your own homework. Google the latin names or look them up on good botanical plant websites…you should find images and information to help you identify or at least compare species. Trying to include all of that here would be tough. If photos of the edible species were included but not the inedible or toxic ones, that might encourage people to make mistakes and fail to properly identify what they have.

  • Kathleen July 3, 2015, 10:22 pm

    What is the latin name for the honeysuckle vine that has long (2 in.) pink/orange flowers and round lily pad leaves? What parts of it are toxic….and what are the toxic effects. I have such a plant, but do not know the name of it…..I would greatly appreciate your helpful response!

    • Latoya January 17, 2017, 6:44 am

      Sounds like you are talking about the “Lonicera Magnifica”. The berries are only edible to wild birds.

  • Adele August 30, 2015, 11:37 am

    I have a Cape Honeysuckle (I believe it’s a L.Ciliosa) and after 20 plus years I found small pear shaped fruit on it. They are red/orange in color. Are they eatable.
    Thank you for your help.

    • Green Deane August 31, 2015, 3:28 pm

      Tecoma capensis is NOT edible.

  • Catherine September 2, 2015, 10:15 am

    Hi there! I have lonicera maackii growing in my backyard. The berries are beautiful and juicy looking and I am tempted to try them. I have read that lonicera maackii is an asian invasive. Do you think the berries are edible? Thanks in advance!

    • Chloe May 6, 2017, 9:11 am

      They are toxic, do not eat.

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