There are approximately 200 species of honeysuckle that grow worldwide, all of which belong to the genus
. Although they are usually found in the temperate zones, honeysuckle has also been known to grow in the Himalayas and southern Asia.
Honeysuckle has been used for over a century within traditional Chinese medicine, often consumed in the form of a tea or soup. Researchers have now identified a molecule within the plant that directly targets a family of viruses including Spanish flu and avian flu. In a new study published in Cell Research, scientists in China studied the honeysuckle plant and identified a plant microRNA called MIR2911. In clinical trials, this molecule was able to suppress deadly influenza A viruses such as swine flu (H1N1) and bird flu (H5N1). 
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica
) can often be found growing wild, but it is classified as a noxious weed in many states, and is banned in New Hampshire. It grows rapidly in parts of America such as Ohio and can be virtually impossible to control due to its rapid spread via tiny seeds. It forms a dense, woody, shrub layer that aggressively displaces native plants.
The leaves and stems of honeysuckle contain substances called saponins, which are poorly absorbed by the human body but can be dangerous if ingested in extreme amounts. The plant is said to be a natural insecticide. The stems have traditionally been used in basket-weaving. Many children, from rural areas where honeysuckle is common, are familiar with plucking honeysuckle blossoms and sucking the nectar from their flowers. Honeysuckle has a distinct sweet floral scent that is both heady and syrupy with a hint of greenery. In childhood, it was a sure sign that summer had arrived!
The flower of Lonicerae
(jin yin jua, Chinese honeysuckle) was evaluated in an animal model of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). When rats were pretreated with a powdered extract preparation and sacrificed nine hours later, there were significant improvements in esophageal lesions and thickness of the esophageal mucous membrane. The mechanism of action was believed to be an antioxidant effect. The antioxidant, tissue-protective effects were similar to animals given alpha-tocopherol. There have been no published human studies of Chinese honeysuckle and GERD. 
The flowers of Lonicera periclymenum
(Common honeysuckle, woodbine) are pink, creamy-yellow and purple. They are sweet-tasting and may be eaten raw. Lonicera Japonica
(Japanese honeysuckle) is an evergreen, trailing vine that has become a troublesome weed in parts of the U.S. The flowers are white but quickly fade to yellow. The leaves and flowers are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yet another variety, called honeysuckle (Lonicera interrupta
), has leaves that were used as herbal medicine by Yuki (California Indians) to clean sores. Shoshone Indians would pound the raw root and apply it as a poultice to bruises and swellings.
Japanese honeysuckle has been under scrutiny in the cosmetics industry due to its use as an ingredient in a preservative for natural cosmetic formulations. Japanese honeysuckle contains parahydroxy benzoic acid, which behaves in a similar way to synthetic parabens. (It should be noted that parahydroxy benzoic acid is also present in commonly consumed foods such as carrots and olive oil). This has led to various debates over the use of Japanese honeysuckle (with other components) in a commercial natural preservative and the misconception that all parabens are created equal. It also has a molecular structure that is similar, but not identical, to parabens (methyparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben). The debate over the relationship between Japanese honeysuckle and parabens is ongoing, and it is ultimately up to the formulator to decide whether or not this ingredient fits into their repertoire. Personal experience has indicated that Japanese honeysuckle is not effective for long-term product preservation without assistance from other proven, broad-spectrum preservatives.
Honeysuckle is commonly used in cosmetic formulations as an extract. The major constituents in Lonicera japonica
extract are flavonoids, triterpenoid saponins and tannins. Dried or powdered honeysuckle blossoms can be added to dry formulations like bath teas, facial masks or sea salt blends. Japanese Honeysuckle is one ingredient in Plantservative WSr, a natural preservative manufactured by Campo (though is it not on the FDA list of proven preservatives). However, the most popular use of honeysuckle in formulation seems to be as a fragrance compound. And, if you’ve ever smelled it, it’s easy to see why! References:
- Honeysuckle-encoded atypical microRNA2911 directly targets influenza A viruses. Cell Research (2015) 25:39–49. doi:10.1038/cr.2014.130; published online 7 October 2014
- Ku SK, Seo BI, Park JH, et al. Effect of Lonicerae flos extracts on reflux esophagitis with antioxidant activity. World J Gastroenterol 2009;15:4799-4805.
- New alternatives to cosmetics preservation. J. Cosmet. Sci., 61, 107–123 (March/April 2010)