In Ojibwe, ozaawaaskined, honeysuckles are sometimes edible and sometimes medicinal. But always a favorite of nectar seekers like the ruby-throated hummingbird along with all-stars like scarlet bee balm and cardinal flower. Some human folks seek the nectar too.
The most abundant native honeysuckle here is American/Canadian Fly (lonicera canadensis), which likes openings in deciduous and mixed woods and favors moist hummus. It’s almost invisible to the general public with its pale flowers, but once you know what it looks like you’ll spot it along many a trail in the spring. Other species noted in Haliburton Flora include limber/glaucous (lonicera dioica) and hairy (lonicera hirsuta). There’s also a rare mountain fly (lonicera villosa) in Algonquin park.
Here you may run across introduced honeysuckles Pretty X (lonicera bella) and Tartarian (lonicera tatarica), among others. I’ve noticed these on old farmsteads, and I’ve noticed spread beyond the homestead competing with native plants. Red berried elder is in the same family, so is hobble bush, wild raisin, and high bush cranberry, and these are all more suited to our local wildlife as well as the native honeysuckles.
Northern bush “honeysuckle” (diervilla lonicera) isn’t a true honeysuckle, but has a similar appearance, and is native here:
Edible Uses of Honeysuckles
There are at least 180 species of honeysuckle in the world, and some of the berries are tasty, and some so bitter they’re spewed out. And yet some honeysuckle berries are mildly toxic. Our native honeysuckles are not exactly berrylicious.
You might be familiar with “haskap berries” that look like an elongated chunky blueberry. They’re a crop grown in Canada and growing in popularity. I was surprised when I found out they’re a honeysuckle (lonicera caerulea). Likely the most edible honeysuckle berry out there!
Honeysuckle flowers produce a sweet nectar that can be sucked out if you’d like to sample natural hummingbird food. If you have an abundance to share with the hummingbirds you could collect enough to make a drink!
Medicinal Uses of Honeysuckles
Honeysuckle is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Astringent and Mucilage. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes, in glaucous honeysuckles case, a syrup made from the flowers for a sore throat. Many species are used for sore throats and colds. Japanese honeysuckle appears to be the most popular, with more medicinal actions and applications.
Alternative Uses of Honeysuckles
Some honeysuckle species stems can be used for fiber: for mats, baskets, bags, etc. Some have pithy woody stems that can be hollowed out for straws.
Native honeysuckles aren’t as showy, glaucous honeysuckle being an exception, but they are pollinator all-star additions to your landscape. If you’re looking to attract hummingbirds scarlet bee balm and cardinal flower are a couple more of their favorites.
There are cultivators that are not native, but are also not invasive. Some cultivators will take over or spread though, and with so many varieties there’s certainly research to do before deciding which to plant. You can find much more information here: https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/OIPC_BMP_Honeysuckle.pdf
And while Northern bush honeysuckle isn’t a true lonicera, it’s lovely for the same reasons as native honeysuckles. It’s a low shrub that can form dense colonies, especially along roadsides, that flowers for months. It’s the host plant of Diervilla Clearwing moths – the link is to one of my iNat sightings of this beautiful bird like moth.
Some honeysuckle berries are mildly toxic.
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.