Honeyberries (Lancer caerulea L.) are a new fruit that plant breeders have been working on for around 13 years. Plants in this group are edible members of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae).
HoneyberryUSA.com goes on to tell us that “They are known as zhimolost in Russia, haskap in Japan, and honeyberry in the USA! Some people refer to the Japanese varieties as haskap and to the Russian varieties as honeyberry. Edible Blue Honeysuckle is an accurate way to refer to the species in general!”
Breeders from around the world have been working on this plant, which has many varieties. For our purposes, these plants have been developed by crossing species from northern boreal forests in Asia, Europe, and North America. They are good for our area because all subspecies have good cold hardiness ranging from -30 to -60 degrees.
Emily Steinwehe is particularly fond of this fruit, which has a flavor “sweet and tart, sort of like huckleberries or blueberries.” One lovely thing about honey berries is their early bearing—they ripen before strawberries.
Emily says that they are a little hard to pick because the fruit is hidden. A helpful way to harvest them is to put a blanket or wading pool under the shrubs, then shake the branches, and the fruit will fall.
In addition to their cold hardiness, they are resistant to pests (even the dreaded Japanese beetles) and diseases, but birds and powdery mildew can be problems. Despite being members of the honeysuckle family, they are not invasive.
Honeyberries grow in sunny or shady locations. They bear best in sun in the North and need some protection from sun in the South. They will grow in most soils in wide range of pH levels (4.5 – 8.5) though 5-8 is preferred. They are likely to perform better in clay soils than sandy soils. Many honeyberries require proximity to another unrelated honeyberry plant for pollinization by bees and other insects. Some varieties will produce some fruit alone. If you are buying these plants, be sure to inquire about whether they are self-pollinating.
Honeyberries sound like an ideal fruit for our area. I know I want to plant them in my mini food forest next year.
These unique plants are a part of Wisconsin Food Forests’ Basic Starter Kit.