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Honeysuckle: Traditional Remedy for Colds and Flu

Emily is a clinical herbalist trained at the International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and under master herbalist Michael Tierra

Jin Yin Hua is an important antiviral herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Jin Yin Hua is an important antiviral herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Could Antiviral Support Be Growing in Your Garden?

It's that time of year. When you go to the store or step in an elevator, you can hear the sniffling. You know you’re being exposed to contagious cold and flu viruses, and it’s only a matter of time before one of those little bugs breaks through your body’s defenses.

How can you help your body deal with the onslaught?

The Antiviral Properties of Honeysuckle

According to Chinese tradition, one ally from the plant kingdom might be the sweet-smelling honeysuckle flower, one of the premier antiviral herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Known as Jin Yin Hua in Mandarin, honeysuckle is one of the most important herbs for fevers, colds, and flu in Chinese medicine. According to the textbook authors John and Tina Chen (2004), it has broad-spectrum antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (fever-lowering) properties.

And while you should always consult a qualified professional when dealing with health conditions, it is interesting to note that these traditional uses of honeysuckle flowers are supported by animal studies demonstrating antiviral activity, especially against the Influenza A virus (Zhou, Li, Liu, et al, 2015). Clinical trials are now underway to examine the efficacy of honeysuckle (in the form of Shuang Huang Lian) against coronavirus, specifically COVID-19 (Clinical Trials Ontario, 2020).

Secret Ingredient of Airborne® and Yin Chiao

Personally, I haven’t been sick for five years. My secret? Yin Chiao San, a famous Chinese herbal formula, the basis of which is the lovely honeysuckle flower.

Immensely popular in Asian countries as a way to head off a bout of flu, Yin Chiao is also one of the main ingredients of the popular Airborne® cold and flu remedy. This means Airborne® also contains honeysuckle.

Yin Chiao has been studied extensively in China. Chinese studies show excellent results for shortening the course of colds and flu and for preventing upper respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia (Chen & Chen, 2008.)

Honeysuckle and Chinese herbal formulas like Yin Chiao have not been studied by the Food and Drug Administration, however, and in the United States, Airborne® was accused of making false claims with its "cure for the common cold" tag line. There, of course, is no actual cure for a cold or flu viral infections, and Airborne® is now sold as an "immune booster" (Federal Trade Commission, 2008.)

Honeysuckle comes from the same plant family as elder, which gives us the popular elderberry syrup cold and flu remedy (Tierra, 2014.)

In addition to Airborne®, the herbs contained in the ancient Yin Chiao formula are included in health food store classics such as Source Naturals Wellness Formula.

Honeysuckle is also contained in a more modern Chinese herbal formula called Gan Mao Ling, which many practitioners consider to be even stronger antiviral support than Yin Chiao (Fratkin, 2010.) As you can see, honeysuckle is central to traditional Chinese approaches to influenza infection.

Honeysuckle and Coronavirus COVID-19

When an outbreak of COVID-19, a novel strain of coronavirus, in Wuhan province, China, caused worldwide panic, clinical trials for treatments exploded. One of the substances being studied for efficacy against COVID-19 is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal formula called Shuang Huang Lian (Clinical Trials Ontario, 2020.)

Shuang Huang Lian contains three herbs, including, you guessed it, honeysuckle or jin yin hua. The decision to study this formula is based on case studies reporting efficacy by TCM practitioners in Wuhan (Ni, Zhou et al, 2020) and likely the formula's previous performance in trials for the respiratory syncytial virus (Fang, Kong et al.,1993.)

Shuang Huang Lian has not been proven to prevent or treat coronavirus (BMJ 2020.) Shuang Huang Lian is being studied in China and is not being studied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Administering Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle is considered to be "cooling" and "detoxifying" in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It's important to purchase high-quality product, mix honeysuckle with optimal herbs, and follow other health-related cold and flu recommendations if you're sick and planning on using honeysuckle.

Buying High-Quality Honeysuckle

Because of reports of contamination of Chinese herbs, always look for products produced with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and solid quality control. My personal choice is the Plum Flower brand for Yin Chiao and Gan Mao Ling, which is widely trusted by herbalists, tested for heavy metal and microbial contamination, and follows GMP quality assurance.

How to Combine Honeysuckle With Other Herbs

Honeysuckle works best in combination with other herbs. It is rarely used alone. In Yin Chiao, Airborne®, Gan Mao Ling and Shuang Huang Lian, honeysuckle is mixed with other antiviral herbs, most notably as forsythia, another popular garden flower with an antiviral punch (Chen & Chen, 2008.)

When to Take Honeysuckle

According to traditional practice, honeysuckle and Yin Chiao are especially indicated when the virus takes a particularly inflammatory turn with severe sore throat and fever (versus a preponderance of chills and mild sore throat.) Yin Chiao is also specific for summer colds and flu infections (Chen & Chen, 2008.)

Yin Chiao and Airborne® are best taken at the first signs of infection before full-blown symptoms have set in (Fratkin, 2010.) I take it any time I get a scratchy throat along with mild fatigue and that “just not right” feeling that precedes a bout of cold or flu. If this does not help your body wipe out the impending virus, some practitioners suggest switching to Gan Mao Ling, but continuing with Yin Chiao is also common.

TCM Wellness Recommendations for Beating the Cold or Flu

To beat the flu, Traditional Chinese Medicine also advises us to avoid physical exertion, get plenty of rest, eat lightly and forgo sweets, oily foods, and dairy products. Staying hydrated, ideally with warm beverages, gives our protective mucous membranes a fighting chance against infection.

Jin Yin Hua herb is picked in the bud stage before flowering in early summer.

Jin Yin Hua herb is picked in the bud stage before flowering in early summer.

Other Uses for Honeysuckle

In addition to treating colds and flu, honeysuckle is used for other inflammatory and infectious conditions, including bacterial infections and skin inflammations. Honeysuckle is specific for inflamed swellings and painful abscesses, such as mastitis and tonsillitis (Chen & Chen, 2004; Tierra, 2014.) A doctor should be consulted for such conditions, of course, and a professional herbalist can combine other herbs to create an appropriate supportive formula.

Although this article examines the use of Asian honeysuckle or Flos Lonicerae Japonicae, there are references to "woodbine" in European herbal tradition (Tierra, 2014). Though it has fallen out of favor with modern Western herbalists, honeysuckle is still used by alternative health practitioners as a flower essence and a beautiful but extremely expensive essential oil.

A Final Reminder

Always remember to consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms or if you are considering taking new supplements or remedies. The information in this article is provided for educational purposes only and reflects traditional uses of plants. It should not be used for treatment purposes.


BMJ (19 March 2020) “BMJ Best Practice Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)" Coronavirus (18 March 2020) BMJ. (United Kingdom).

Chen J and Chen T. (2004) Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology Art of Medicine Press, City of Industry, California.

Chen J and Chen T. (2008) Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications. Art of Medicine Press, City of Industry, California.

Clinical Trials Ontario. (6 March 2020) "Clinical Trials happening globally to halt COVID-19".

Federal Trade Commission (14 August 2008) "Makers of Airborne® Settle FTC Charges of Deceptive Advertising; Agreement Brings Total Settlement Funds to $30 Million".

Fratkin, J (2010) "Treating Acute And Chronic Viral Infections With Chinese Herbal Products."

Kong XT1, Fang HT, Jiang GQ, et al. (April 1993) "Treatment of acute bronchiolitis with Chinese herbs." Clinical Trial; Comparative Study; [Randomized Controlled Trial] 68(4):468-71

Ni L, Zhou L, Zhou M et al. (2020) "Combination of western medicine and Chinese traditional patent medicine in treating a family case of COVID-19 in Wuhan". Frontiers of Medicine. Higher Education Press.

Tierra, M. (2014) "Honeysuckle: Taking the Bitter with the Sweet." [blog post]

Zhou, Z., Li, X., Liu, J. et al. (2015) "Honeysuckle-encoded atypical microRNA2911 directly targets influenza A viruses". Cell Research vol. 25, 39–49.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2011 Emily L Snelling


Emily L Snelling (author) from Lake Tahoe, Nevada USA on March 23, 2020:

Thank you, Ryan. Stay well.

Ryan Jarvis Cornelius from Hollywood, FL on March 19, 2020:

This is a great read. Especially during a time as this. It is needed. I love the way you minimized each detail and made sure the reader understands it. I see why it is considered. Good work.