By Sarah Watson
With its intoxicating scent, curvy Art Nouveau-style blooms and understated pastel yellow and blush-pink hues, common honeysuckle is surely the most elegant wild flower. Even its name, Lonicera, sounds like a siren of the silver screen.
There are over 180 species of honeysuckle, some of which may be toxic to varying degrees. The flowers of a few species are considered edible, including UK native common honeysuckle, or woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum). In summer, wild honeysuckle can be found flowering in woodland, scrubland, hedgerows and along roadsides. There are showy, garden varieties of it too – as pictured above. It’s a twining shrub with opposite pairs of untoothed, pointed leaves and stalkless, trumpet-shaped flowers arranged in whorls which are followed by clusters of red berries.
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) introduced from eastern Asia and naturalised in parts of Southern Britain, also has edible flowers. Its trumpets, in shades of creamy-white and yellow, are borne in pairs (pictured below) and followed by small, spherical black berries. It’s quite invasive in the wild in the UK and can be harmful to native plants, so you don’t need to worry about taking too much.
It takes just a small quantity of the deliciously-fragranced blossoms to capture their honeyed, floral flavour. Honeysuckle-infused water can be used to make refreshing sorbets, cordials or conserves. A jelly goes nicely with some thick slices of ham, or in a summer cream tea with some fresh raspberries or strawberries.
Use my honeysuckle syrup recipe below to make a vinaigrette, jelly, or for a refreshing drink, add chilled fizzy water and a splash of citrus juice, or even yuzu. Honeysuckle syrup goes well with tequila or brandy in cocktails. Or try ‘Suck my Honey’ – my gin and honeysuckle cocktail recipe with lime and orange blossom water – find it on the Difford’s Guide website in my article on using honeysuckle in drinks.
The berries of most honeysuckle species are said to be mildly poisonous, as are the leaves. Pictured below are the berries of common honeysuckle.
Photo by: Brian Robert Marshall, licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Harvest native honeysuckle lightly from several places, taking a little from each patch and leaving some flowers for the bees and moths which feed on its nectar. Take individual, freshly-opened trumpets, leaving unopened flowers to bloom, and leaving the stalk and flower base behind for berries to form, as birds and other wildlife feed on them.
Honeysuckle syrup recipe
Makes one bottle – about 700ml
- Large handful of fresh honeysuckle trumpets – all green bits removed
- 500ml hot water – recently boiled
- 500g sugar
- Juice of half a lemon
Soak your honeysuckle flowers in enough water to cover them. Leave overnight at room temperature to cool, then pop in the fridge to infuse for another day or so.
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin (or kitchen paper) into a measuring jug.
Add equal quantities of sugar (in grams) to liquid (in millilitres), along with the juice of half a lemon for each 500ml.
Put into a saucepan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer gently for 4 minutes.
Funnel into a sterilised glass bottle and seal. Keep in the fridge once open,and use within a month. Or let the syrup cool and transfer to a sterilised plastic bottle for freezing – leave some headspace to allow for expansion.
Always use good plant identification books to identify your finds to 100% certainty before eating them.
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