Honeyberries are fruit of forms of the honeysuckle Lonicera caerulea, also known as blue honeysuckle or edible honeysuckle. The fruits are very similar to blueberries in taste and looks, and can be eaten raw or used in jams and jellies. Like blueberries they are high in antioxidants and vitamin C and make an interesting addition to your fruit collection.
Botanical name Lonicera caerulea
Flowering time Late winter to very early spring
Planting time Spring
Height and spread 1.2m (4ft)
Aspect Full sun
Hardiness Very hardy down to -40°C
Honeyberry is relatively a new introduction into the UK. They are native to Siberia, northern China and northern Japan where they were widely harvested. Ideally honeyberries should be planted in pairs or groups, as this will increase the rate of pollination and fruit production. Some suppliers sell them in pairs.
Soil and site selection
- Plant in spring when there is no risk of frost, this allows the plant to get establish over the following summer
- A well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter is ideal; however most soils are suitable
- They do not mind acidic or alkaline soil which makes them a great alternative for people who struggle to grow blueberries
- Grow on a site in full sun to help increase fruit yield as the sun will ripen the wood
- A yearly application of a balanced fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone in the spring is all they need. Too much feed will produce lots of lush green growth and not many flowers and fruit
- A mulch of well-composted organic matter will help retain moisture and improve soil conditions mulching
Pruning and training
Young plants only need dead material removed for the first three years while they get established. For more established honeyberries, pruning should be done in early to mid-summer after harvesting;
- Remove straggly weak and damaged growth
- Thin out any overcrowded shoots by removing several down to the base to encourage new strong shoots to replace the old
- Also remove the tips of young shoots as this encourages more flowering laterals
Pollination and harvesting
It may be worth considering pollination by hand to increase yield of fruit. They flower late winter to very early spring when there is little pollinating insect activity. Hand pollination can be done by lightly brushing over the flowers with a small, soft paint brush.
The fruit is harvested about late-spring early-summer. The berries turns blue and develops a whitish bloom when ripe; however check to make sure that the flesh is purple-red as green under-ripe fruits can be very sour. A mature plant can produce about 6kg of fruit. It can take up to two years before you will get a crop.
Honeyberry is easily propagated by seed; the pulp around the seed needs to be removed before they are sown in moist, warm conditions during the summer. There is no need for any cold stratification of the seed.
Using cuttings as your method of propagation gives you the ability to select material from your tastiest shrub and be certain of the sex of the cutting. Semi-ripe cutting can be taken during summer from none-fruiting stems. Hardwood cuttings can be taken in late-autumn winter.
There is little written on the differences between the forms of honeyberry (it is such a new crop) at this stage and taste can be quite variable. However, the best eating varieties are considered to be forms of Lonicera caerulea var. edulis and L. caerulea var. kamtschatica;
They are very hardy and do not generally suffer from any pest and disease.
Hazard: All honeysuckles have berries but not all of them are edible. In fact, many are potentially harmful. So check labelling and make sure you are growing the correct type.
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