It was a sweet day mixed with sunshine and rain, work time and play. I spent the morning out on the porch catching up on e-mails while my son made paper airplanes and we compared the aerodynamics of different designs. We have been lacking in rain this season, and by the early afternoon a great storm rolled in and ushered us back inside, assuring us that the plants would be cared for while our attention went elsewhere.
After the rain it was perfect timing to go out and harvest honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) buds and blossoms. Where the honeysuckle grows is also where the snakes love to roam; but they are drawn to the heat, and retreat from the cool dampness. It is interesting to note that honeysuckle is indicated for hot conditions, and is generally not suitable for cold constitutions. I wonder how that plays into the energetics of this harvest. Also of interest is that this particular patch of honeysuckle on our property is home to black racer snakes (Coluber constricter priapus), which drive away the venomous snakes native to the area; i.e., copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) and timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus). We have caught some copperheads near this patch in the past few years. We actually had a copperhead (caught elsewhere on the property) that was picked up today by a local educational center. Honeysuckle poultice and ointment is reportedly useful for snake bite, though it is always difficult to learn much about snake bite medicine, for it is a rare occurrence with even rarer reports of herbal therapeutics. I would certainly try it as part of treatment for snake envenomation.
So, back to the honeysuckle. This particular Lonicera species is actually native to East Asia, and was introduced into Long Island, NY in 1806 as an ornamental. It is invasive in the majority of the US and is very difficult to control. The plant grows and spreads prolifically. Birds and other wildlife spread the seeds after eating fruits, and it also reproduces vegetatively through rhizomes and runners. There are few natural enemies to Japanese honeysuckle in North America. It grows well in disturbed soil and rebounds easily from control methods such as manual removal and cutting back aerial parts. It is certainly of concern is some areas, especially where it is crowding out native species and/or taking down shrubs and small trees. It is useful as a wildlife habitat and for erosion control, but care should be taken when choosing to introduce this plant to an area.
If you already have Japanese honeysuckle growing in your area, a great way to make use of it is to brew up some medicine! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, honeysuckle is considered a panacea, used to clear heat and toxins in a variety of presentations. It is a premier remedy for almost any inflamed infection and is used both internally and externally. Honeysuckle is a valued antimicrobial herb as it is effective against E. Coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, streptococcus and pseudomonas. It is antibacterial and antiviral and is often prescribed for colds, flus, and other respiratory infection. Internally, this herb may be used for fever, Pitta-type ulcers and GI inflammation, sore throat, urinary tract inflammation, headache, and asthma. It is combined with Chrysanthemum for high blood pressure, angina and arteriosclerosis.
Culpepper notes of Lonicera spp.:
“It is fitting a conserve made of the flowers should be kept in every gentlewoman’s house; I know no better cure for the asthma than this besides it takes away the evil of the spleen: provokes urine, procures speedy delivery of women in travail, relieves cramps…”
Externally, an ointment, poultice or wash of the flowers may be used for insect stings, rashes, wounds, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, abscesses, boils, poison ivy rash, snake bite, and gout. For most of these conditions I would accompany topical preparations with internal use of the tincture, syrup or tea.
Culpepper attributes honeysuckle to Mercurian rule, while Scott Cunningham suggests it is governed by Jupiter. Cunningham also proposes magical use to attract prosperity and clairvoyance. Honeysuckle helps open the heart and promote love and secure relationships. Where there has been disagreement, discrepancy or lack of understanding between individuals or groups of people, honeysuckle helps to weave a path of healing and settle miscommunications that may have become inflamed. This plant eases heartache and provides a safe haven for tranquil restoration from pain and afflictions. Honeysuckle supports the third Chakra in restoring a graceful sense of balance and integrity in the face of adversity.
Flower buds are traditionally used in Chinese Medicine, so we chose to tincture the buds and make syrup with the blossoms. I am also making a flower essence which I’m really excited about! Oh, and the syrup tastes amazing!