Common Name: Blue-Berried Honeysuckle, Blue Honeysuckle, Sweetberry Honeysuckle, Edible Honeysuckle, Haskap

Scientific Name: Lonicera caerulea
Family: Caprifoliaceae (the Honeysuckle family)

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Blue Honeysuckle are almost unknown around the world.

Description:
I absolutely love to find out about new plants, so when Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast mentioned the Blue Honeysuckle, and I had never heard of such a plant, I immediately set out to investigate. I was not disappointed. The Russians have been working with this plant for quite a while (and more recently the Canadians and Americans as well), so there are a number of improved varieties available. This beautiful Honeysuckle produces edible blue berries which apparently have a good flavor. They also attract bees and can be used for hedging. Sounds like a winning combination for a suburban shrub and a great addition to a Forest Garden.
NOTE: I am indebted to Edible Blue Honeysuckle Gardeners for their review of this article, helpful comments, and knowledge gained from experience. I highly recommend you take a look at their site. It is loaded with great information on this amazing plant.

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Lonicera caerulea, 1882, Atlas der Alenflora

History:
The Blue Honeysuckle is native to the northern hemisphere’s temperate climates (i.e. Asia, Europe,  and North America). It has been used by native peoples in these locations for thousands of years, although it never as a main food source. The Russians have done the initial development (using primarily Lonicera caerulea var. edulis), but since the late 1990’s the Canadians (University of Saskatchewan) have been working on  hybridizing Russian varieties (Lonicera caerulea var. edulis) and Japanese varieties (Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx) from Hokkaido Island, Japan and Americans (Oregon State University) have developed breeding programs using Japanese varieties (Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx) from Hokkaido Island, Japan.

Trivia:

  • Blue Honeysucle is not naturally found on west coasts of the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The fruit is really a thickened tissue surrounding the two ovaries of each flower .
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Blue Honeysuckle can be used as a hedge plant… that produces food!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit – Although I have never tried it, the flavor is descibed as a mix of raspberry, blueberry, and black currant. Seeds are small and “not noticeable”.
    • Raw – used as any other fresh berry
    • Cooked – used in sauces and savory meals
    • Baked – used in pastries, tarts, pies, etc.
    • Preserved – used in Jams, Jellies, Preserves, etc.
    • Fruit Leather
    • Dried – I imagine it could be dried, but I can find no reference for this
    • Primary or Secondary flavoring for Beers, Wines, Liquors, Cordials, etc.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Nectar source for Hummingbirds
  • Ornamental Plant
  • Edible Hedge plant (space at 3-4 feet apart, and this “clumping, thicket forming” shrub will fill in over time)

Yield: 7 lbs (3 kg) on mature shrub.
Harvesting: Late Summer. Berries will turn blue before they fully ripen; the inside of the berry will change from green to deep purple-red when ripe.
Storage: Use within a few days. Berries can be frozen for later use. It is easier to freeze berries individually in a baking sheet, then put them into a freezer bag. Then the berries are not frozen together in a lump, and we can easily use just what we need.

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A great plant for a suburban yard or in the Shrub Layer of a Forest Garden.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 2-6  Russian varieties are adapted to Zones 2-5; Japanese varieties are adapted to Zones 2-6. It is not known how warm of a Zone this plant will thrive and produce fruits.
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information could be found… I don’t think anyone really knows this yet.
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available. If the plant is not producing well in warmer climates, it may be because it has not had enough chilling hours/units.

Plant Type: Medium-sized, clumping Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are varieties available (some consider these sub-species), and there are a number of improved cultivars as well

Pollination: Requires cross-pollination with another compatible variety, and both plants will produce fruit. Cross-pollination charts would be great, but I cannot find one (if one even exists).
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer (April-June)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Can live for 30+ years
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Blue Honeysuckles have beautiful flowers.

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PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 5-6.5 feet (1.5-2 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous with a tendency toward shallow if not deeply watered during establishment (3 years)
Growth Rate: Medium

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The bottom of the fruit may be deeply involuted or have one, two, or no dimples.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates some shade, but fruiting will likely decrease
Moisture: Perfers moist soils. Deep watering is important during their establishment phase (first three years) so that the plant will develop deep roots.
pH: 5.0-7.0 (but will tolerate alkaline soils to 8.0)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Blue Honeysuckles do not like cold winds, so windbreaks (to the North and West) are recommended. Protect the plants in cold Winter climates!
  • There does not appear to be much information or research done on growing this plant in places other than northern climates, even above the Arctic Circle! If you are in a more southern location, it is probably better to consider the Japanese varieties first… but I don’t think anyone really knows.

Propagation:
Named cultivars are propagated by tissue culture. Autumn layering is more successful than cuttings.   Softwood cuttings are more successful than hardwood cuttings. Seeds from named cultivars will not come true as named cultivars are F1 hybrids. Seeds need about 8-13 weeks of cold stratification. Seeds will germinate after being in the freezer for at least 4 months.

Maintenance: Minimal.

Concerns:
There are some reports that this plant can spread too easily (by birds eating seed), although there may not be much evidence to support this. This may be more of a theoretical risk. As I usually say, that is likely a good thing, as this plant is a better choice than most “landscaping” plants in suburbia.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://en.academic.ru/pictures/enwiki/76/Lonicera_coerulea_a3.jpg
  • http://i143.photobucket.com/albums/r131/telsingandrews/garden2010/haskapberries.jpg
  • http://www.thetreefarm.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/f/i/file_10.jpg
  • http://www.pianteautoctone.com/immagini/Lonicera%20caerulea%20fiori.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Lonicera_caerulea_flowers.JPG
  • http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/images/11506.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/98/Lonicera_caerulea_Atlas_Alpenflora.jpg
  • http://search.millcreeknursery.ca/Content/Images/Photos/A089-08.jpg
  • http://search.shelmerdine.com/Content/Images/Photos/D032-03.jpg