For all the enticing perfumes the genus Lonicera offers, and yet most species withholding their fruits as tiny and poisonous, it seems like the species that gives its energy to larger, non-poisonous fruit, taking away from the scented flowers would be amazing. That species is honeyberries.
Lonicera edulis/ villosa var. carulea, or blue fruited honeysuckle, is a small bush from three to six foot tall from boreal forests of Asia and Russia. Growing in such cold regions, it’s hardy to USDA zone 2. Only issue can be getting two pollinating varieties. There are in general only two major categories -early and late blooming. Not too complicated.
I have several varieties in my food forest. The oldest, and best fruiting so far, ‘Tundra’ and ‘Berry Blue,’ I like a lot. The ones in good positions already give a decent handful of fruit every year, and started producing the spring after I planted them.
I think I would have more production from my four year old bushes if the deer didn’t keep nibbling them back over winter. They have stayed a neat 2ft tall accept for the berry blue, which is about 4 ft now. I haven’t noticed significant browsing on that one.
I must admit for being called honeyberry, they aren’t especially sweet. ‘Berry Blue’ is downright sour really. Thay have a rich flavor complex that makes for a pleasant experience nonetheless. The one with the better tasting, larger fruits so far is ‘Tundra’ or ‘Indigo Gem’ as the market is beginning to call it.
They are very nutritious though. They put blueberries to shame, having far more antioxidants and higher selenium content. Take a look at this page for their superfruit profile.
These, and most honeyberries on the market today, are hybrids between the Japanese and Russian varieties. The Russian varieties, I’m told, are inferior to the Japanese stock in flavor as well as viability when grown in the States.
The fusion of the two produces a larger berry and better flavor than in either of their wild progenitors. From what I read, it has gotten much better than the varieties I started with. So I keep collecting new varieties for trial.
One that looks especially large is ‘Blue Belle.’ which I have yet to get my hands on. I even had it ordered this spring from Burnt Ridge, but they informed me later it was a crop failure. The pictures of this variety (with a ruler next to it) measures an inch, which is better than my ‘Tundra,’ which pushes a half inch.
Pictures of ‘Tundra’ often show a berry pushing 3/4,” so perhaps their growing conditions could be better. I have my honeyberries in the upper back of the food forest, just below the grain patch because the woods to the east makes shade, and the catalpa tree makes shade, and they say honeyberries can take a lot of shade, so I stuck them there.
The ones furthest back, while growing happily, haven’t made as much fruit as those on the swale getting a bit more sun. I am planting the new varieties closer to the front of the food forest with more open exposure and sun. This was their first year to fruit and they were notably prolific. Nevertheless, they don’t seem to like all the wind exposure, growing slower and shorter. That should change as I get wind breaks up. Perhaps those will be the best producers once the canopy gives protection.
Few of the older plants are in established guilds, so put up with some grass competition. To be so happy with little care definitely sets them at the top of my list for food forest berry plants. It is my hope that as conditions become less weedy and more shady, that these become the real stars of the food forest. That will be a tasty time indeed.