Heady honeysuckle

By Sarah Watson

 

With its intoxicating scent, curvy Art Nouveau-style blooms and understated pastel yellow and blush-pink hues, honeysuckle is surely the most elegant wild flower, not to mention one of the most deliciously-scented. Even its name, Lonicera, sounds like a siren of the silver screen.

There are many species of honeysuckle, some of which may be toxic to varying degrees, and UK native Lonicera periclymenum is the one to forage for. It’s a twining shrub with opposite pairs of untoothed, pointed leaves and stalkless, trumpet-shaped flowers arranged in whorls.

It takes just a small quantity of the fragranced trumpets to capture their honeyed, floral notes. Honeysuckle-infused water can be used to make refreshing sorbets, cordials or conserves. The latter goes very nicely with some thick slices of ham, or in a summer cream tea with the addition of some fresh raspberries or strawberries.

To make honeysuckle syrup, steep a few small handfuls of flowers in enough water (just off the boil) to cover them. Leave overnight at room temperature, then pop in the fridge to infuse for another day or so. Strain through muslin into a measuring jug, and add equal quantities of sugar to liquid 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, then funnel into sterilised glass bottles and seal, or let the syrup cool and transfer to sterilised plastic bottles for freezing.

Use the syrup to make a vinaigrette, jellies, or for a refreshing drink, add chilled fizzy water and a splash of citrus juice, or even yuzu. Honeysuckle syrup goes well with brandy in cocktails, or here’s one to try with gin.

In summer, wild honeysuckle can be found flowering in woodland, scrubland, hedgerows and along roadsides. The red berries of most honeysuckle species are said to be mildly poisonous.

Honeysuckle_berries,_Swindon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1443368

Photo by: Brian Robert Marshall, licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I suggest harvesting lightly from several places, taking a little from each patch and leaving some flowers for the bees and moths. Take individual, open trumpets, leaving unopened flowers to bloom and leaving the stalk and flower base behind for berries to form.

Always use good plant identification books to identify your finds to 100% certainty before eating them.

Discover  more about identifying and cooking with wild herbs and flowers on a Wild Feast foraging & cookery course.  Get more wild food tips and updates on courses on Facebook and sign up for my e-newsletter for wild food recipes direct to your inbox (option to unsubscribe at any time).