There are between 180 and 200 species of honeysuckle (genus Lonicera), most of which are native to Asia, although some originate in Europe and North America. They vary widely in form – some species grow as vines, others as bushes; most are deciduous, but some keep their leaves year-round – but they all have small, sweet-smelling trumpet-shaped flowers. Honeysuckle is valued by gardeners for its scent and because it attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, but the plant has a reputation of being aggressively invasive unless kept well-pruned. Many species are cultivated for their flowers or as ground cover, but the most commonly found are Italian (L. caprifolium), European or English (L. periclymenum) and Japanese (L. japonica). Honeysuckle is also sometimes referred to as woodbine. The plant occasionally called Meadow honeysuckle is actually from a different genus, Trifolium pretense.
Honeysuckle has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, in which stems of the plant were used to make a tea to detoxify the body. In Europe, and later in America, the flowers were dried to make a tea or flower buds were crushed and mixed with honey for a syrup; these treatments were used to relieve sore throats. The leaves and berries were avoided as they can be mildly toxic and cause irritation.
Currently, honeysuckle oil is steam distilled from the flowers and flower buds. Used in massage and aromatherapy, the oil is considered to have a relaxing and calming effect and, conversely, has the reputation of causing very romantic dreams. When applied topically, products containing honeysuckle oil have been found to have anti-inflammatory benefits, particularly for treating contact dermatitis. The oil also has some antibacterial effects on the skin, although this has not been proven in clinical tests. Honeysuckle oil is primarily used commercially in perfumes and as a scent in soap, body washes, shampoos (particularly baby shampoos) and candles.