Honeysuckle Lore

Whenever we hear the word honeysuckle we naturally think of a lovely fragrant vine, with flowers of white, yellow, pink to purple, or scarlet hue.

The early name of this plant was “Woodbine,” and this is still used in some localities. Honeysuckle, native to the Northern Hemisphere, grows in Europe, Asia, and North America; it has 175 species, and about twenty-five are found in Canada and the United States.

Some honeysuckles are tall, scrubby bushes and grow in woods, or along roadways. Others have been introduced into gardens; many have been cultivated as ornamental vines and trained over fences, porches, trellises, or windows.

The most common species is the Tartarian honeysuckle, which may grow to a height of ten feet. In June it has rose-pink blossoms, and in the fall, bright red berries. The common name of the red variety is the trumpet honeysuckle, a good climber. This is a favorite with hummingbirds, for the trumpet contains nectar, and the fragrance attracts these tiny birds. One type, a bush with small yellow blooms, is a mecca for bees.

Honeysuckle leaves are oval, and most varieties are evergreen. When the flowers drop off, red berries take their place. Since birds eat them, honeysuckles are widely distributed. Insects, too, carry pollen to the plants. In the eastern part of our country the Japanese honeysuckle, native to Eastern Asia, has escaped from culture and grows wild in many places. When this plant has established its roots, there is no holding it back, in fact, in some states it is considered a pest. Honeysuckle wood is hard and is sometimes used for making canes and the teeth of rakes.


For centuries the honeysuckle has been popular, and not only for its fragrance. Some people during medieval times raised the vines for medicinal purposes in their castle gardens. In addition, they made “distilled water” or perfume from the petals, the blooms were used in a conserve, that was said to be beneficial to one’s health. Years ago, in rural areas, the leaves were crushed and applied to bee stings to reduce soreness.

honeysuckle and moonlight

In her book, Lady with Green Fingers, the author Bea Howe states:

To discourage evil spirits from entering the house, she {the country housewife} brought back honeysuckle {or fairy trumpets} from the woods and set it to twine round the porch-posts of her home. Honeysuckle was also used to protect cows from harm and to keep the milk and butter sweet.

An interesting Italian legend gives us the origin of the honeysuckle: A young peasant, Paolo, fell in love with two girls, one a blonde, the other a brunette. Both Bianca and Nerina loved Paolo, but they had promised each other not to be jealous no matter whom he chose.

When he threw bouquets into their gardens, Bianca did not return the attention but Nerina did, without telling her friend. Since Paolo couldn’t make up his mind, he vowed to wed the girl who gave him a flower. At that season, all plants were dead. At once Bianca prayed for flowers, and when her tears watered the earth a graceful vine grew from them, the first honeysuckle ever seen.

Bianca prayed to Venus to help her, and the as a result, the next morning the vine was covered with blooms. When Paolo passed, he smelled the lovely fragrance and paid no attention to the kisses that Nerina was sending in his direction. At once, he went toward Bianca and kissed her, all because of the perfume sent forth by the honeysuckle.

josephine_wall_fairies_honeysuckleIn Shakespeare’s time, honeysuckle {believed to be under the rule of Mercury} was considered “a favorite remedy for wounds in the head.” In Midsummer Night’s Dream, he entwined Titania’s canopy with “luscious woodbine.” Another writer put it this way: “The honeysuckle is a flower that belongs particularly to moonlight and fairyland.”

2 thoughts on “Honeysuckle Lore

  1. I learned more than I wanted to while trying to find a North American native honeysuckle that was also fragrant. Of course, I ended up with the common Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle. We have a scarlet honeysuckle at work, which is a cultivar of a North American species, but it is not fragrant, and is not really all that pretty. I brought a honeysuckle back from Oklahoma that I really like, but it is neither pretty nor fragrant. I just like it because it came from Oklahoma.

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