Making Use of Invasive Honeysuckle

By Staff
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Honeysuckle in the soft evening light in the garden
For the past few years I’ve kept up a tradition of virtual medicine walks on the stages of the Mother Earth News Fair. I never like to duplicate, so each year I change the theme of this “walk” and add new plants. If I were coming to the fair year after year I would want to learn new things every time. In anticipation of the North Carolina Mother Earth News Fair in just a few short days, I thought I would give folks a preview of this year’s walk.

Too many of us romanticize plants that are growing in another climate. In every corner of the planet plants have undertaken unique adaptation in order to survive. Some have become meat eaters, some have bright colors, others perch in the canopy of the rainforest and require no soil. How can we not fall in love with the exotic modifications found in a place that is altogether different than where we live?

While I recognize where our romanticization begins, I also see that in the process we overlook what is in our own backyard. The plants which seem common to us in the midwest are altogether amazing to someone from the desert. There is a “super fruit” in every culture and every biome. When we start to appreciate and explore what is right at our fingertips we find forgotten medicine and food growing in the windrows and ditches.

One of the plants I will be highlighting in this year’s plant walk is honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Honeysuckle is on the USDA’s invasive plant list. The plant was introduced in the 1800’s from its native home in eastern Asia. It was brought here because of its ornamental value. Its sweet smelling, white blooms coupled with the vine’s ability to quickly cover unattractive walls and fences made it appealing. Unfortunately, it escaped from cultivated areas and used its abilities to take over native habitat. Today, there are groups organized in many areas of the country that head into the woods and tear out L. japonica.

I certainly understand the need to reduce the population of this plant, but as it is removed we could be using it for its phytochemical benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine the flowers are used to combat cold and flu. In fact, the plant has considerable antiviral activity. Tinctures or teas can be used with great success to shorten the duration and strength of a viral attack. James Duke and Stephen Foster tell us, in their new version of the Peterson Field Guid to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Easter and Central North America, that there are some studies suggesting the flower may also be helpful in lowering cholesterol.

When we define a plant as “trash” or “invasive”, we often overlook the good. While we clear our land for the coming growing season, let’s consider that there is value even in those things we wish to discard. Why waste food and medicine that is abundant and free for the taking?

You can catch the rest of my talk on the Mountain Rose Herbs Stage on Saturday 5:30-6:30. I’ll also be doing “How to Heal Local” (Mother Earth Living Stage, Saturday 2:30-3:30), a booksigning (Saturday 3:30-4:00) and “Home Healthcare for Your Thyroid” (Mother Earth Living Stage, Sunday 1:00-2:00). Come out and see us at the fair!!

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