Honeysuckle: The Easy-To-Grow Sweet Medicine

How many of you as a child used to drink the tiny drops of nectar from honeysuckle flowers?  How many still do? [Raises hand…]


Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is what I’m talking about…a common garden species.  Not to be confused with the variety of native honeysuckles there are, which may range from having different uses to being toxic, Lonicera japonica, has distinctive white and yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers. As its botanical name implies, it’s an Asian native that grows well in many places and has even naturalized here in the U.S.  

This is a lovely, sweet-scented plant that is easy to grow and is good medicine. It’ll also attract hummingbirds and sphinx moths to your garden.  Sphinx moths are so large, they are often confused for hummingbirds! 


Growing Honeysuckle

  • General Tips: Japanese honeysuckle is a climbing vine that looks lovely on a trellis, but can also be used as a ground cover. Be careful because honeysuckle can take over, and it’s considered invasive in some states, where it crowds out native plants.  Folks living in the Southeast and lower Midwestern states may want to skip this one.   A perennial, honeysuckle is evergreen in warmer areas but deciduous in cooler climates.  (Here in the Rockies, mine loses its leaves in the fall.)
  • Soil: Honeysuckle is content in a wide range of soils, at a wide range of pH from acidic to alkaline. It even tolerates dry conditions. In fact, if the soil is too good, this plant will grow like crazy. So maybe some crappy soil is not a bad idea to keep the plant in check.
  • Light: Either full sun or part shade is fine.  Again, if your plant is threatening to take over the yard, if not the neighborhood, more shade will slow down the growth. 
  • Fertilizing: If you live in a colder climate, you might add some compost and organic fertilizer in the spring. If you live where the plant grows more vigorously, skip this!
  • Pruning: Don’t be afraid to cut this one back, especially if it’s growing like crazy.  You can give it a trim in early spring to keep it under control. (Or mow it, if it’s a ground cover.)


Traditional Medicinal Uses Of Japanese Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle are a medicinal powerhouse.  There are multiple species of honeysuckle that have traditionally been used for medicinal effects on multiple continents, but, again, we’re sticking to one species here.

Note: Though the flowers, leaves, and stems are all used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in some species of honeysuckle, the stems may be toxic. Also, the berries of Japanese honeysuckle are mildly toxic and you’ll wish you didn’t try them when you’re puking or pooping your brains out.  The leaves may result in an upset stomach for some folks…the flowers may be the best way to go.


  • Clearing Heat: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Japanese honeysuckle is used for clearing heat. Specifically, issues such as fevers, a “hot” respiratory infection (feverish, yellow sputum), skin inflammation, dysentery, and other issues of excess heat. 
  • Bacterial Infections: The flowers have activity against Staph and many other pathogenic bacteria on the skin and in the respiratory and digestive systems.  That said, don’t mess around with bacterial infections…if they aren’t resolving quickly, you’ll want to see your doctor.  The leaves of the plant are even stronger than the flowers, but the flowers seem to be more commonly used.
  • Viral Infections: Respiratory stuff in sinuses, throat and lungs.  The flowers as a glycerite are lovely for a sore throat (and, yum).
  • Hay Fever: Helps with congestion.
  • Hot Flashes: As a cooling herb, honeysuckle is added to formulas for reducing hot flashes.
  • Gout: It’s a diuretic that also contains a chemical that inhibits uric acid production. (Uric acid buildup is what causes the painful symptoms of gout).