The sweet fragrance of honeysuckle and the taste of its nectar brings back childhood memories of spring. Many of us learned how to eat honeysuckle nectar in our early years of grade school, with the nectar-licking lessons passed from kid to kid during recess or while on the playground as honeysuckle seemed to bloom all around us.
There are about 180 species of honeysuckle worldwide and about 20 in North America. The particularly fragrant species of honeysuckle we often find in the Mid-Atlantic region, however, is not native. It’s from eastern Asia, and it’s called Japanese honeysuckle.
The scientific name for Japanese honeysuckle is Lonicera japonica, but it’s also known as the golden-and-silver honeysuckle. It was introduced into the United States more than a century ago, and since that time, it has spread across much of the eastern United States, pushing as far west as Iowa and Oklahoma. Many are very fond of the sweet-smelling and fast-growing Asian import, but others view it as a noxious weed and a threat to native plants.
Japanese honeysuckle is easily recognized by its leaves, which grow in pairs, opposite one another, along the length of a hollow stalk. The young stalks have fine hairs, and the flowers grow in clusters on the stalk, on the same axis as the leaf pairs.
The next time you see honeysuckle, check out the leaves and flowers closely. There’s a good chance you’ll discover it’s Japanese honeysuckle. It’s an invasive weed, but it certainly smells good and has a sweet taste.
Deer love to eat honeysuckle. “A honeysuckle thicket is a deer magnet,” according to deer hunters. The overabundance of deer in our area may help to slow the spread of honeysuckle, but the fragrant weed also helps to keep the deer fed.
If you like the fragrance of honeysuckle, try clipping a few flowering stalks and put them in a vase with water. The flowers will survive for a few days, and they can fill a room with their aroma.
And if you like the taste of honeysuckle nectar, I’ve included a recipe for honeysuckle cupcakes below. Honeysuckle cupcakes taste amazing, and they are also fun to make. If you like to cook and can find a flowering honeysuckle plant, I’d recommend making a batch. It’s an interesting and memorable experience, especially if you have kids who can assist.
Honeysuckle cupcakes recipe — makes 12 cupcakes
Step 1: Make honeysuckle syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup of honeysuckle flowers
Pick a cup of honeysuckle flowers. Boil water in a saucepan with sugar. Stir water until the sugar dissolves. Wash the honeysuckle flowers very well and add to the boiling mixture. Boil and stir the honeysuckle flowers for three minutes, then remove from heat. Strain out the flowers with a colander and pour the honeysuckle syrup into a bowl. Cool to room temperature.
Step 2: Bake the cupcakes
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup salted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the sugar, butter and oil in a large bowl. Mix in eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt. Line a cupcake tin with liners and fill 2/3 with batter. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes to room temperature.
Step 3: Pour honeysuckle syrup into the cupcakes
Punch dozens of holes into the top of each cupcake with a fork. Slowly pour two tablespoons of honeysuckle syrup into each cupcake while pushing gently with the spoon on the top of the cupcakes while pouring. Pushing the spoon into the cupcake while pouring helps reduce the spilling of the syrup.
Step 4: Frost the cupcakes
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons honeysuckle syrup
Mix the confectionery sugar and butter in a large bowl. Mix in the vanilla, milk and honeysuckle syrup. If the frosting is too thick, add more honeysuckle syrup. If it’s too thin, add more confectioner’s sugar. Coat the top of the cupcakes with the frosting.
Step 5: Presentation
Insert a honeysuckle flower into the top of each cupcake or scatter blossoms on the plate around the cupcakes. Serve with coffee or milk.