Himalayan Honeysuckle Plants: Tips For Growing Himalayan Honeysuckles

As the name would suggest, Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) is native to Asia. Is Himalayan honeysuckle invasive in non-native regions? It has been reported as a noxious weed in New Zealand and Australia but doesn’t pose a problem in most regions. You can control it easily, as with most exotic flowering plants, by removing spent flowers before they form seed. Other than that potential issue, Himalayan honeysuckle care is straightforward and relatively simple.

What is Himalayan Honeysuckle?

Himalayan honeysuckle plants develop a truly unique looking flower. It is a carefree blooming plant that is attractive to butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. The blooms are followed by tiny purple berries that are edible and said to taste like toffee or caramel.

Himalayan honeysuckle plants are native to the forest land of the Himalayas and southwestern China. It develops into a multi-stemmed bush with hollow branches. The bush can grow 6 feet (1.8 m.) tall with a similar spread and is adorned

with large heart-shaped leaves.

The real attraction are the flowers. Bell-shaped white flowers descend from brilliant scarlet bracts, lending the flowers an exotic appearance. Flowers are evident from June up until September. Plants are not hardy and will experience die-back in fall but will sprout new stems and leaves in springtime rain and warmth.

Growing Himalayan Honeysuckles

This foreign beauty is hardy to United States Department of Agriculture zones 7-10. If the root zone is protected, new growth will return. In warm regions, the plants will not drop leaves or die back and benefit from pruning in winter to make the plant more compact. Flowers appear on new growth so heavy pruning will not affect blooms.

Himalayan honeysuckle prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Space plants 2 to 3 feet (.61 to .91 m.) apart in mass plantings.

If you wish to start new plants, sow seeds in a cold frame in fall in warm regions or start indoors in flats 6 weeks before the date of the last frost in northern gardens. The plants can also be grown by cuttings or division.

Himalayan Honeysuckle Care

In hotter regions, situate the plant where it will receive afternoon sun. Keep the surface of the soil moist but avoid watering to the point that soil is boggy.

Feed the plant monthly during the growing season with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Although it may seem extreme, cut plants back to 6 inches (15 cm.) from the ground. New shoots will form and the plant will achieve its previous height by the end of the next growing season. To prevent self-seeding, remove flower heads before they seed or in cooler regions where this is not a problem, leave them and watch the birds go nuts for the fruit.

Some fruits are just meant for picking and eating, there and then, in the garden. Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca) is one, with its tiny, sweet, ever so slightly vanilla flavoured fruit that are doled out carefully throughout the summer. But the king of instant consumption has to be Leycesteria formosa, known to gardeners as Himalayan honeysuckle and to connoisseurs as the ‘treacle tree’.

No plant in the forest garden divides opinion like leycesteria: you either love or hate its startling mixture of molasses sweetness and bitter aftertaste. But however much you like it, don’t expect to take any home – the berries burst and splat so easily that storage is practically impossible.

Foods that you’ll never see on a plate have a special allure, but even some more common fruits are best eaten one by one, on the go. Blackcurrants and gooseberries, for instance, are at their best when they are far too soft and squishy to be picked and stored easily.

My treacleberries kicked off a conversation recently about planting food plants for children. Instead of coaxing kids to eat their five-a-day at the table, how much more effective to just plant a tangle of fruit in the garden and leave them to it, play and feeding all in one. I’m sure my love of fruit and foraging came from grazing on the yellow raspberries that lined the half-mile walk home from school. For maximum effect it is probably best to strictly forbid the kids to eat it.

When I first started in my allotment, my neighbour’s daughter used to beg to be allowed to come down and eat the sprouting broccoli. I think that’s when the full extent of how much more appealing self-picked food is to kids dawned on me. I’ve taken this insight into the park that I manage, which is stuffed with as much fruit as I can fit in. Leycesteria is an excellent option for a public food plant. It ripens its berries four at a time down the flower head, so it produces a regular supply rather than a glut that can be stripped. It is a very attractive, structural plant, sometimes known as ‘shrimp flower’ because of the look of their flowers, and any that don’t get eaten by people are made very welcome by the birds.

treacle tree

shrimp flower

Himalayan honeysuckle

Himalayan Honeysuckle Berry Fig-style Rolls (vegan and gluten free)

Appeared in Country Kitchen Magazine 2010 (with less pictures)

Originating from the Himalayas and areas of South-West China, Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria Formosa), also known as Himalayan Nutmeg, Flowering Nutmeg, Pheasant Berry and Chocolate Berry, is a very attractive fast growing, white flowered and multi bamboo-like stemmed green leafy shrub. It can grow up to 10 foot tall. From July through to October, dangling clusters of white flowers with red purple bracts give way to edible fruit that mature from green to pink to reddish purple and, finally, deep purple-black. The fully ripened fruit are faintly figgy in flavour with hints of bitter chocolate and burnt caramel. Increasingly common as a garden plant, it can be found as a garden escape and is becoming naturalized in some areas.
I’ve found this on waste ground and riverbanks from Kent to Wales and as far north as Edinburg. Despite being very tasty the berries do not have a long recorded tradition of use, so go easy at first to test your individual sensitivity.
Berry clusters ripen at different stages. It took me three weeks of return visits to collect the quantity required for this recipe.

Note: eating too many berries, raw cooked or dried can lead to loose stools aka, you know what, so test your sensitivity with a few berries first, slowly increasing to larger quantities if you have no problems.

Himalayan Honeysuckle Berry Fig-style Rolls (vegan and gluten free)
Makes approx 20 rolls

Gluten free sweet pastry (makes 13.8 oz/370g):
5oz/142g fine rice flour
3oz/84g vegetable margarine
2oz/28g finely ground almonds
1oz/28g light muscovado sugar
1 dessert spoon rapeseed oil
1 tbsp water
½ oz/14g cornflour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp xanthan gum powder
pinch of salt
9 oz/266g dried (but still soft) Himalayan honeysuckle berries

Make pastry by briefly blending all dry ingredients in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse blend for approx 10 seconds. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour.
Prepare filling by blending the semidried berries to a paste.
Dust a piece of baking parchment with rice or corn flour. Bang dough on work surface on all sides to form a fat rectangular shape. Place on parchment, dust with flour and roll out to form a rectangle 3-4 mm thick (trim to an even shape with knife). On another piece of parchment form a slightly compressed but essentially thin sausage shaped line of sticky berry filling. Flip over on to the pastry (leaving a boarder) and carefully ease off with a knife or spoon. Roll pastry to cover filling by lifting parchment. Seal edges. Chill for 30 mins. Flip onto a greased baking tray, cut into approx 1”/2.5cm pieces – arranged with sufficient gap between each piece – and bake at 180°c for 10-15 mins in a preheated oven until barely light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: Xanthan gum powder (used here as a gluten substitute) can be purchased online or at health and gourmet food suppliers. Suma Whole foods is one brand. Anybody living near me can get this at Macknades in Faversham: £6.79 for 100g (a little goes a long way so it lasts ages).

I’ve successfully made these rolls with wild harvested goji berries and wild cherries, as well as with figs, dates and apricots.


Not to be semantically confused with : Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : The drooping purple-red tier of white flowers.

No relation to : Nutmeg .

Leycesteria is a genus of seven shrubs from Asia and SW China, only one of which (Himalayan Honeysuckle) grows wild in the UK from bird-dropped seeds of garden planted specimens.

It is thought to be non-toxic, but there have been deaths associated with Himalayan Honeysuckle in cattle in New Zealand and Australia, where it is a rampant weed. Your Author can add that all plants are adaptable to their surroundings and circumstances, and many synthesize toxins in response to some threat, whilst not ordinarily doing so. This saves the energy of fighting a non-existent enemy. Your Author can find no toxins listed for this plant.

The berries, which are red at first, becoming dark-purple then black, are palatable to Blackbirds and to Pheasants, hence one of the popular names ‘Pheasant Berry’. They seem to be edible by humans, but only when at the right stage of ripeness, as otherwise they can be quite unpalatable. Although it grows in the wild in the UK it is not rampant, and is one of the few garden plants that are said to grow wild that your Author has actually found growing wild in several different places.

Related to : Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) .

Plant This . . .? No, Don’t

Look before you leap, indeed. As to trees and shrubs, look at the books and think hard about your own garden’s suitability, and above all, think of the view from your windows before you plant. Those fine Leylandii cypresses have already given the lawyers in England a fine outing, as neighbours complain of loss of light and what-not, when someone has innocently thought it a good idea to have a shield from the wind or the passing traffic. They are monsters. One poor fellow, after complaints from a neighbour, cut down a tree or two for the sake of peace, and then found himself in court for breaking local environmental laws: he was in a preservation area where not a brick could be removed without permission, and that applied also to trees. An ornamental, flowering cherry is a lovely thing, but one gardener found that the roots of a tree she had planted in her paved garden had run 15 yards across, and may have been the cause of disturbance to other plants on the way. Did not Dublin Corporation have to dig up many they had, to the delight of the local population, planted along some streets, because the roots were lifting up the pavements and threatening underground pipes? Then, people with small gardens who must have one tree, anyway, to lift their eyes and thoughts to. What better than birch – slender, sinuous, glowing? Agreed, but when it gets to about 40 feet your betula pendula Dalecarlica is not the pet you thought, especially beside a cedar; though the columnar pine keeps its promised slim shape.

One of the great surprises of shrub life is the propagating capacity of that lovely Leycesteria formosa, popularly known as the pheasant bush, and, indeed, in another place, pheasant droppings galore have been found around them. Himalayan honeysuckle is another name for them. The Royal Horticultural Society’s encyclopaedia puts “that it bears pendant spikes” of four inches long, of white flowers among dark purple-red bracts. “These exotic flowers produce purple berries which are so popular with birds that stone walls in the area and even stone gate-pillars have to be watched for seeds deposited, which quickly become bushes, which could bring down the same walls.

This garden mentioned before, has a plant of five feet on top of a ten foot wall which stands over a greenhouse. It won’t stand for long. Y

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