There are over 180 varieties of honeysuckle, which include both deciduous and evergreen types. All varieties have sweet-smelling flowers that range from white and yellow to red. These plants are hardy and grow easily—almost too easily; if not pruned and carefully controlled, this ornamental plant can become invasive.
The most common honeysuckle is the Japanese variety. The vine has deciduous green leaves one to three inches in length and yellow, trumpet-like, two-lipped flowers. The vine can grow in excess of 30 feet and can be supported by a trellis or grow up a structure. Honeysuckle is an invasive plant, so it must be constantly clipped back so it does not escape from the garden and into the fields. The stems are slightly hairy when new and form a bark as they get a little older. The plant dies back in the winter in cold climates but comes back in the spring. Honeysuckle attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Japanese honeysuckle is native to Japan and Korea. It was brought to the state of New York in 1806 to be used as a food source for wildlife in the state, and because of its appeal as a plant. It was used to control and prevent earth erosion, and it worked well. In fact, the plant became invasive and had to be controlled after a while.
Myth and Legend
In Greek mythology Daphnis and Chloe were lovers, but they lived far apart and only could see each other while the honeysuckle bloomed. Daphnis asked the god of love if the plant could bloom longer than a season, so they could be together longer, which is why, according to legend, honeysuckle blooms continually throughout warm weather periods.
In some countries, bringing the blooms of honeysuckle into the house means there is going to be a wedding within the year. In Scotland honeysuckle vines were hung on barns to prevent cattle from being bewitched.
Japanese honeysuckle is edible and contains calcium, magnesium and potassium.. Children learned long ago to remove a flower from the vine and pull the stem at the small end. The whole inside part of the flower will come out from the petals. They would suck on the long skinny tubes, which tasted sweet, almost like honey. In the past, honeysuckle vines were often boiled and eaten like a vegetable. Flowers were boiled into syrups or placed in puddings.
The ancient Chinese used honeysuckle for snake bites. Physicians in Middle Age Europe found that honeysuckle was antibacterial, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory. Stems have been eaten since the Middle Ages for arthritis, mumps, hepatitis, upper respiratory infections and pneumonia and were used to treat dysentery. The flowers were commonly used to cure skin diseases, tumors, rashes and sores from the Middle Ages all the way up to the late 1800s.
Honeysuckle is the symbol of love. In the language of flowers it stands for the bond of love, devoted love and fidelity, probably because of the Greek legend of Daphnis and Chloe. The fragrance is supposed to induce dreams of passion.