Monday, 18 April 2011


Honeysuckle has been known by many names throughout the ages in Britain and was, in Chaucer’s time called Eglantine, which is now the name of the sweet briar rose. It was, by Shakespeare’s time called woodbine (from the Old English wudebinde which referred to all climbing plants with tendrils), although this is also confusing as this was and is also a name given to the convolvulus. The variety that is native to Britain is the Lonicera periclymenum while the Lonicera caprifolium (goat’s leaf) is native to the Mediterranean and is sometimes referred to as Italian honeysuckle. Chaucer’s prioress in his “Canterbury Tales” was called Madame Eglantine (an unlikely name for a nun) and in Shakespeare woodbine is mentioned both in “Twelfth Night” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
  In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the mischievous imp Puck says this:
   “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
    Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
    Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine
    With sweet musk-rose and with eglantine
    Where sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
     Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”
Clearly Titania only slept for a little while in her bower as the scents of the violet, musk-rose, eglantine, woodbine and thyme would have combined to make her feel in a party mood, as they have strong heady scents. They weren’t reputed to have aphrodisiac effects but they would have been mood enhancers. In the Bach flower remedies, honeysuckle is for grief and to bring people back to a happier present.
   In “Twelfth Night” Act 3 scene 1 Ursula says that Beatrice “Is couched in the woodbine coverture,” meaning that she was wrapped in sweetness from the blossoms.
  Honeysuckle can be dried and used in pot-pourri along with dried rose petals, lavender and other flowers such as marigolds. It was believed that if you wore honeysuckle or had it under your pillow at night you would dream of your one true love, and it is often an ingredient of herbal sleep pillows today. There are other superstitions regarding the flower, and they are lucky. Having the plant growing around your door means that witches cannot enter your house and its presence in a garden prevents evil from lurking there. If you pick the flowers and take them into the house they will bring money with them. However in Victorian Britain, girls from middle class families were told not to bring the flowers into the house as the perfume might cause dreams which were not thought chaste or appropriate.
  In the Mediterranean area the honeysuckle is often a night-flowering one which is pollinated by the hawk moth, and grows along with jasmine, one blooming during the day and the other at night, or perhaps both being night flowering varieties. Walking past them when they are flowering, one gets an amazingly sensuous smell, certainly a mood enhancing one.
  Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) named the honeysuckles Lonicera after a botanist Adam Loncier (1528-1586). There are many varieties, which grow around the world, including in the Himalayas and south Asia.
  The physician and herbalist, John Gerard had honeysuckle in his garden and says the honeysuckle is “neither cold, nor binding, but hot and attenuating, or making thin” then he goes on to quote Dioscorides who wrote his Materia Medica in the first century AD,
  “The ripe seed gathered and dried in the shadow and drunk for four days together, doth waste and consume the hardness of the spleen and removeth wearisomeness, helpeth the shortness and difficulty of breathing, curing the hicket (hiccups) and so on. A syrup made of the flowers is good to be drunk against diseases of the lungs and spleen.”
 He also says that it is good for sores in the digestive tract. It has been used as an expectorant and a laxative and the flowers in syrup were given for bronchial diseases and asthma. A decoction of the leaves was given for the liver and spleen and they were also thought to be useful in gargles, although Culpeper disagreed. He said that if you chewed the leaves they would cause, not cure a sore mouth or throat. He considered the honeysuckle to have “cleansing, consuming and digesting” qualities and so it was, he thought “in no way fit for inflammation.” He agreed that it was good for the lungs and says
  “It is fitting a conserve made of flowers should be kept in every gentlewoman’s house; I know of no better cure for asthma than this besides it takes away the evil of the spleen: provokes urine, procures speedy delivery of women in travail (child birth), relieves cramps, convulsions and palsies and whatsoever griefs come of cold or obstructed perspiration.”
  He also says that is good in ointment for skin problems including any discolouration, sunburn and freckles.
  Pliny recommended that honeysuckle flowers should be boiled in wine for the spleen, so perhaps they are good for this purpose. If you take a few handfuls of the flowers and pour a pint of boiling water over them, you can use this for coughs and colds and for headaches. The leaves and flowers contain salicylic acid the precursor of aspirin which makes them good for pain relief.
  The red berries of the honeysuckle are toxic and should not be eaten, but the flower heads make a good garnish for desserts and cakes, and can be made into a conserve with sugar. You should eat the petals only, though not the whole flower head.
  Honeysuckle is related to the Viburnums and Sambucus plants which includes the elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra). It is the decoction of the leaves which was considered good for the spleen and liver, made by boiling leaves in water; the seeds have diuretic qualities too, but are not as effective as the flowers and leaves.
  In the language of flowers honeysuckle symbolizes fidelity and affection and the twining qualities of the plant represent the unity of a couple. You can make honeysuckle wine from the flower heads, but I have been unable to track down a reliable recipe as yet.

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