Notes from the Apothecary: Honeysuckle
What a sweet name, conjuring images of bees and summer and jewel like flowers dripping with nectar, while butterflies gorge themselves on the sugary goodness. According to sacredwicca.com, honeysuckle is a Beltane flower, which makes sense as I remember the intricate blooms beginning to open in my grandparents’ yard around this time of year. We would sit in the pale English sun drinking in the smell of the nectar and the gently, bustling hum of honeybees. This exotic looking but fairly common plant holds a great deal of nostalgia for me, and the connection to my recent ancestors makes it an appropriate choice to write about at this other time when the veil is thin; Beltane, the opposite side of the wheel to Samhain, when the fae and their kin are strongest.
The Kitchen Garden…
Eat the Weeds tells us that honeysuckle is ‘iffy for foragers’, basically meaning that it’s one of those plants that has so many varieties, some of which are edible, some of which are not and some of which are downright poisonous. Because of this, if you are planning on cultivating honeysuckle for eating, you should ensure you absolutely know what variety you are growing. Lonicera japonica, or Japanese Honeysuckle, has leaves that can be boiled and eaten, and the flowers are so sweet and delicious they are enjoyed like candy. Lonicera villosa, or waterberry, has edible berries, but is often confused with variants which are not so tasty or even bad for you.
The upshot of this is, don’t eat any part of the honeysuckle plant unless you are one hundred percent sure that you have an edible variety. If in doubt, just don’t. Don’t be disappointed about the dubious edibility of this beautiful plant though. There are many great reasons to have a honeysuckle plant in your garden. As a climbing plant, it’s often used to hide unsightly walls or old fences, replacing urban grimness with nature’s treasure. As well as this, it attracts bees and butterflies, essential pollinators, filling your garden with colour and sound. This in will attract birds, and bats in some climates, so honeysuckle is a great addition to any wildlife garden.
Some species can be invasive, so it’s recommended to keep it away from fruit trees and the like as it can literally use their trunks as ladders to climb, which is not so healthy for your poor fruit trees. But with some liberal pruning when needed, honeysuckle is a beautiful, practical plant which brings a sweet fragrance and a splash of summer colour to any garden.
Mrs Grieve, in her Modern Herbal, tells us that there are over 100 species of honeysuckle but that only a dozen or so are used medicinally. She tells us that the fruits have emiticocathartic properties, a word which is not common in modern usage but presumably means honeysuckle berries can be used both as an emetic and a cathartic. Emetics cause the body to expel toxins, either by vomiting or defecating, and cathartic work solely on accelerating defecation. This sounds pretty grim, but emetics are often used if the patient is known to have ingested something toxic which needs to be expelled quickly. Of course, the berries cause vomiting because they themselves are toxic (some varieties; see above) so shouldn’t be consumed at all, really.
Other traditional remedies include using honeysuckle leaves or flowers as a diuretic, to ease asthmas, and to help with cramps and even bad skin.
The Witch’s Kitchen…
Honeysuckle is a climbing plant, and reminds us that we have to start at the bottom and work our way up. It is a symbol of perseverance, determination and hard work. Rev. Carol A. Ingle tells us that the plant is associated with the tarot card, The Chariot, allowing you to focus on having discernment, authority and mastery of any task at hand. She also recommends the use of honeysuckle in good luck spells and also bending others to your will. The plant is also great for protection magic.
Culpepper claimed it was a ‘herb of Mercury’. This plant, therefore, is often used in money magic, to attract wealth or new opportunities leading to better prosperity, such as luck for a new job interview. Mercury is also all about clear communication, so meditating on honeysuckle can allow you to open up your mind to allow the words you need to say to someone to come to the fore.
Named Féithleann in Irish, the plant is also known as the Irish Vine, so if you work with the Celtic Tree Calendar, honeysuckle is a great substitute for vine. Please note, I find the Celtic tree Calendar a thoroughly modern construct, as there is no evidence the Iron Age Celts followed a year split up into tree-based months, however it is a lovely construct and one that clearly means a great deal to many people. The magic of trees and plants cannot be disputed, and if this is a way that some practitioners connect with that magic, I have no problem with that. As long as it’s clear that it is not a reconstruction of what our Celtic ancestors followed it is inspired by their reverence for trees and plants, which in itself is a lovely idea.
Home and Hearth…
Irish folklore states that honeysuckle around the door of a home will prevent a witch from entering. Of course, the protective nature of the plant is actually that it will prevent negative energies from entering your house, so this is still great advice!
Bring honeysuckle flowers from your garden into the house to attract money. Keep the flowers in water, then as they start to wilt, immediately discard them, either in your compost disposal or in the eastern side of your garden if possible, to represent the manifestation of your desires.
I Never Knew…
Honeysuckle is much enjoyed by livestock, including chicken and goats. Indeed, the Latin name for one species, lonicera caprifolium, comes from the Latin for ‘goat’s leaf’.
Image credits: Lonicera x heckrottii ‘Gold Flame’ by Wouter Hagens, public domain; Lonicera caprifolium by Sten at Danish Wikipedia; Lonicera nigra by Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817), public domain.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.
She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.
Click Images for Amazon Information