Honeysuckle Sweetness —by Jinny Batterson
By this time in June, the school year is almost over in many parts of the U.S. In the mid-Atlantic small town where I grew up (a long time ago), the final two weeks or so of school corresponded with honeysuckle blossom season. As my companions and I walked to and from school (along a half mile stretch that was uphill only one way and rarely saw winter snows), we passed by several vacant lots where honeysuckle vines had insinuated themselves into the landscape. Back then, we neither knew nor cared that many honeysuckle vines were “invasive,” non-native plants that had originally been imported from their home territory in Europe or Asia as landscape plants, later going wild and displacing or choking out local woodland flowers and shrubs. What we did know, passing the knowledge down from older to younger children, was that honeysuckle blooms produced a sweet nectar that tasted really good. The true connoisseurs among us, veterans of several years of extensive trial and error, could often pick out the tastiest, juiciest blooms—yellowed flowers that had just started to wilt, but not yet dried out.
The current-day internet, our latest purveyor of both useful and useless knowledge, provides step-by-step instructions for proper honeysuckle tasting at the following site: http://www.instructables.com/id/Honeysuckle%3A-Harvesting-the-Sweet-Nectar-of-Life/, which also gifts us with additional basic plant information: “There are nearly 180 different known honeysuckle species, most native to Europe and Asia, with only about twenty indigenous to the US. Honeysuckle is most often a vine, usually growing to a max of 20 feet.”
On a recent neighborhood walk near where I now live, I found a set of honeysuckle vines. No one else was nearby. I cast aside dignity and renewed my acquaintance with this late spring/early summer treat. My skills were rusty, so the first several blossoms I picked yielded little in the way of nectar. After a while, I began to get the hang of the harvest again. Before I wandered further, I had thoroughly sweetened my day. In a few science-based online articles about what makes honeysuckle flowers so sweet, there are chemical names I can hardly pronounce. Researchers note that hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to many honeysuckle species.
I’ll leave the in-depth analysis to others, and settle for the seasonal sensation of having my tongue “invaded” by honeysuckle sweetness.