Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Horizon: Honeysuckle Berries

The sound of the word “honeysuckle” conveys sweet comfort, an experience well-known to backyard flower foragers of the fragrant vine. Lovers of Gewürztraminer and Muscat de Beaumes de Venise know that these wines are renown for their honeysuckle notes, though they haven’t a petal of the flower in them. True honeysuckle nectar resembles lush apricots with hints of lemon and musk, but it isn’t the only sweet treat that species of Lonicera have to offer the taste buds. An edible honeysuckle berry is on the horizon.

Eating honeysuckle nectar from Lonicera periclymenum flowers requires patience and agility. A nimble thumb and forefinger are required to slowly extract the stigma from the base of the flower. When carefully drawn, the stigma reveals a dewy nectar bead at its end—which is smaller than a raindrop. Detailed instructions on how to extract nectar from a honeysuckle flower appear on the pages of a website called Instructables. Each step is illustrated with photographs that are beautiful in their simplicity, reflecting the joy that one finds in these delicate and fragrant flowers.

Vice President and Senior Flavor Chemist Kevin Miller, of International Flavor & Fragrances, spends his days developing flavors for health care products like toothpaste and mouthwash. Mention the word honeysuckle to Kevin and he will instinctively recite childhood memories that involve raiding honeysuckle bushes for nectar. Honeysuckle flowers are one of several artificially created fragrances used in perfumery as the essence is not extractable by traditional means. Were an outstanding honeysuckle flavor available, its application would likely resemble that of rose water. Such a creation would work nicely in alcoholic or sweet bases, such as gin, exotic gelées or granité. One could even envision a traditional yellow cake flavored with honeysuckle and frosted with a lemon butter cream.

Last year, news of edible blue honeysuckle berries appeared in an article in the Journal of American Pomological Society. Edible cultivars of Lonicera caerulea from Russia have made their way to Canada and the United States, and limited harvesting is currently underway in these areas. According to a presentation by Dr. Bob Bors , of the University of Saskatchewan, the flavor profiles of blue honeysuckle (called “Haskap” in Canada) resemble black currants, rhubarb, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Kim Hummer, author of the referenced journal article, finds more of a blueberry taste profile for edible honeysuckle berries grown in Oregon. "...To me blue honeysuckle fruit has a sharp-sweet flavor, somewhat similar to blueberries – but more heavy on the acid rather than sugars. I wouldn’t describe it as flowery.”

It’s possible that fans of honeysuckle may come to look upon their favored flower with even more fondness in the future. If crop yields go as planned, we could see these highly antioxidant fruits appearing in the marketplace in a few years, going the way of goji berries and pomegranate. Tea and toast with honeysuckle jam—now that is a peaceful moment worth imagining…


Honeysuckle sorbet can be made from the flowers of the plant. Author Neenah Ellis’ recipe is posted on NPR’s website.

Photo of blue haskap honeysuckle berries from Canada's DNA Gardens.