Sometimes a medicinal plant can be right under our noses and we don’t even know. Honeysuckle is an old garden favourite but how many gardeners know that the plant is used in herbal medicine? The berries are toxic but the flowers, flower buds, and stems aren’t and these are used as medicine for ailments including coughs, colds, flu and diarrhoea.
Two species of honeysuckle, woodbine or European honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) and Chinese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica, or jin yin) are used medicinally. First listed in the Tang Ben Cao, written in AD 659, L. japonica is used more today for medicinal purposes than the European honeysuckle. It is one of the most important medicinal Chinese herbs used for clearing heat and toxins from the body.
European honeysuckle was once used for childbirth complaints, asthma, and urinary tract ailments. The herb was used as long ago as the time of Pliny who recommended that it be taken in wine for disorders of the spleen.
Uses for both species:
Make an infusion of the flowers for coughs and mild asthma. A syrup, made from the infusion, is used to treat coughs. The plant’s actions are diuretic, expectorant, laxative and, anti-spasmodic.
Taken in the early stages of a cold with symptoms that include fever, sore throat, thirst and headache, a decoction of the flower buds will bring relief. Use the flower bud tincture for diarrhoea or gastroenteritis caused by food poisoning. A decoction made from the stems and branches are used to treat dysentery, feverish colds and for the acute stage of rheumatoid arthritis (best when combined with other herbs). The actions of this Chinese variety are mild diuretic, anti-spasmodic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory.
The plant is a perennial climber, with L. Periclymenum being the most vigorous and the most fragrant form. The plant enjoys half shade although will tolerate full sun and will grow well in most soils. Another species of honeysuckle, L. caprifolium, is distinguishable by its light green oval leaves. It has pink-tinged, creamy-white flowers and like L. Perclymenum, it can be found growing wild. Honeysuckle, with suitable support, can grow to a height of 6 metres (20ft). Propagate plants by taking cuttings from non-flowering shoots in summer, place them in cuttings compost, and when ready plant out in light shade in autumn or winter.
Not only useful for its medicinal purposes, honeysuckle will flourish in the most unusual places. It can be used to cover unsightly walls, sheds, and fences and planted in places where its beautiful fragrance will give immense pleasure. The flowers make a fragrant addition to potpourri.
Caution: Never use the berries from any species of honeysuckle, as they are poisonous. Large doses can cause severe vomiting.