By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Are you familiar with edible honeysuckle? If not, maybe you've heard of haskaps, honeyberries or sweetberry honeysuckle. They are basically all the same thing and they are quickly becoming North America's most exciting new superfruit. Why superfruit? The edible honeysuckle berry is high in antioxidants, even more so than blueberries. But don't be confused; although some tend to think it is part of the blueberry family, it is actually more closely related to the flowering shrub fragrant honeysuckle.
Edible honeysuckle berries have their own unique taste, color and texture. The oblong shaped fruits have a taste that has been described as tart/sweet and they are very juicy. Their dusty-blue skin is quite thin and dissolves in your mouth unnoticed, and they have very tiny, indistinguishable seeds. This makes this tangy superfruit a great treat eaten fresh or cooked into jams, fruit pies and relishes, or used as toppings on ice cream and yogurt. They can also be used to make juice or distilled into wine and spirits.
The best part about this plant, though, is how easy it is to grow and maintain. Anyone can grow this shrub. Unlike blueberry plants, it does not require any special soil or pH to grow successfully. The fruit ripens in early summer, a little earlier than strawberries depending on your region, and are easy to pick. Unlike blackberries and raspberries, the plants have no thorns.
There is a wide range of bitterness and sweetness depending upon the cultivar you grow. Tartness can be largely eliminated if you understand how to identify ripe fruit: just because the fruit turns blue does not mean it's time to pick it. The fruit is ripe if you can easily remove it from the stem without tugging. If there is resistance, wait until it falls easily into your hand, otherwise you may be disappointed with the taste. Since the fruit is so tender, some find the easiest method of harvesting is to place a tarp under the bush and shake the branches. The ripe fruit will easily fall off.
The Lonicera caerulea habit is generally tall and rounded; there are dwarf varieties that will reach just 4', but most will grow 5-7' tall at maturity. Bushes are drought tolerant, well behaved and need little to no pruning as they mature. However, since these plants tend to grow close to the ground, some may wish to prune bottom branches as the bushes mature to simplify fruit harvesting.
This little-known deciduous shrub is native to the colder, northern regions of Europe, Asia and even North America. Selections brought here from Russia and the Czech Republic are often called 'honeyberries'. The name haskap is one of several names that have been attributed to the Japanese subspecies.
Four haskap selections are available from Proven Winners® ColorChoice®, sold under the names Yezberry®. The advantage of the pure Japanese haskap is that the fruit is larger and the plants bloom later. The flowers appear as much as four to six weeks later than Eastern European varieties, making them less susceptible to frost damage, more attractive to pollinators, and better suited to warmer climates.
Yezberry® Maxie™ and Solo™ are excellent plants for professional fruit growers. Yezberry® Sugar Pie® and Honey Bunch® are more compact and better for homeowners.
All varieties of edible honeysuckle have few known pests and are largely deer-resistant. As with most plants that produce berries, birds are the most challenging pests, as they will readily eat the ripe berries.
With the exception of Yezberry® Solo™, edible honeysuckle plants require a pollinizer, or another type of berry bush, for fertilization. As a general rule of thumb, you need one pollinizer plant for every 5 plants to be pollinated. When purchasing, ask your salesperson or garden professional which plants can be used for this purpose.
The future for edible honeysuckle is bright. Cold hardy and easy to grow, the fruit has higher levels of Vitamins C, A, and E than an orange and three times the antioxidant level of blackberries. New breeding and the introduction of new cultivars have brought us better tasting, sweeter and larger berries and plants with wider adaptability and higher yields. Best of all, it's just good fun to grow fresh, tasty fruit at home that does not require special care, soil amendments or pesticides.
When properly maintained, edible honeysuckle plants can provide a lifetime of delicious and nutritious fruit harvests. To see a video of Yezberry® haskaps, go to: http://bit.ly/PWCCHaskap
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