Love them or hate them, honeysuckles are probably here to stay. As dense shrubs or growing come up creeping vines, there are few people who have not partaken of the childhood tradition of getting a little drop of nectar out of these pretty but pesky flowers.
But how about our chickens? Can chickens eat honeysuckle?
Yes, chickens may eat honeysuckle but with some caveats. True varieties of honeysuckle are completely safe for chickens to eat, but plants that are commonly or mistakenly called “honeysuckle” can be dangerously toxic.
In general, your chickens will know whether they should eat them or not.
Unfortunately, the similarities between honeysuckle varieties’ appearance can make positive identification a challenge, and if you have any doubt you shouldn’t let your birds nibble on them.
That being said, most chickens seem to instinctively know whether they should avoid them or not. Will tell you everything you need to know about potentially feeding honeysuckle to your chickens below.
Health Benefits of Honeysuckle for Chickens
Aside from being a reasonable source of fiber, calories, vitamins and minerals, honeysuckle has shown considerable promise in a variety of studies as having potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
This should give your chickens a much needed boost when it comes to overall health and immune system protection, and older or injured birds in particular might benefit from these qualities.
Can Chickens Eat Honeysuckle Raw?
Yes, chickens may eat honeysuckle raw assuming that it is a safe species. Honeysuckle has a fairly limited nutritional profile, and cooking will only further deplete it so letting your birds nibble on it raw is advised.
Can Chickens Eat Honeysuckle Leaves?
Chickens may eat honeysuckle leaves off of safe species so long as they show interest in them.
Particularly when honeysuckle is growing as a shrub the leaves and stems can prove quite resilient and difficult to digest, so chickens are likely to avoid them.
Can Chickens Eat Honeysuckle Berries?
Chickens may eat honeysuckle berries if, once again, they are on a safe species. Berries growing on unsafe species often contain a fair amount of toxins which can be harmful to chickens, particularly when ingested in quantity.
Can Chickens Eat Honeysuckle Cooked?
Chickens may eat cooked honeysuckle with no ill effects, though, as mentioned, there is no really good reason to cook honeysuckle prior to letting your birds dig in.
Alternately, safe honeysuckle plants, blooms and other parts may be used to make a tea or tisane that you can add to chicken feed or other food in order to give your chickens a boost of hydration while also the aforementioned anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Caution: Some Honeysuckle Species are Toxic
There seems to be a considerable amount of confusion regarding the toxicity of honeysuckle vines or bushes, both for human consumption and for consumption by animals.
Stories abound of people claiming they were made ill by eating honeysuckle blooms or berries, while other folks swear that the eating of honeysuckle hurt neither them nor their animals, be it dog or chicken.
Who is correct? The answer is that both are… in a way.
Chickens can eat most true honeysuckle varieties.
I’m specifically referring to plants in the genus Lonicera, but some of the most common varieties being found in North America such as the Japanese honeysuckle, trumpet honeysuckle and common honeysuckle ( Lonicera japonica, Lonicera sempervirens and Lonicera periclymenum, respectively) though there are others.
All of these plants, even invasive species like the Japanese honeysuckle, are eaten by birds. All parts of the plant are edible by birds with specifically the enticing berries, typically blue, purplish black, black or red, being readily eaten by animals. This includes chickens.
The berries are mildly poisonous, but this does not seem to deter animals hardly at all and in fact consumption by animals, and birds specifically, has led to the rapid spread of invasive species outside of their native range.
Ask any chicken owner that has Japanese honeysuckle growing on their property if there are chickens like it and they will probably answer in the affirmative.
The safety of true honeysuckle plants for birds is readily confirmed because you will only rarely see them included on the lists of toxic and dangerous plants for birds, including chickens.
Honeysuckle is safe for chickens to come into contact with, and also safe for them to eat. However, it should be noted that there are many dozen different species of true honeysuckle, with some being more toxic than others, while others are naturally non-toxic.
You should not assume it just because a plant is a true honeysuckle that it is safe, but most of the common varieties growing around North America are safe for chickens to eat, at least on a limited basis.
My rule of thumb is that if my chickens show any aversion to the plant when they would otherwise forage and nibble in the immediate area, I will take pains to block or fence it off if I cannot remove it.
But if my chickens show a little bit of interest in it, there is usually no harm in letting them take a few bites.
It’s Imposter Honeysuckle Plants that Will Kill Your Chickens
Part of the confusion surrounding honeysuckles, and the cause of more than a few deaths, results from people confusing other similar flowers for the real thing, or calling some other species of plant entirely by the nickname honeysuckle out of ignorance or tradition.
Many such plants are seriously too lethally poisonous for chickens. For instance, the Japanese Pieris (Pieris japonica) has a pretty, drooping white to pale pink flowers arrayed along its length which may sometimes be confused for honeysuckles.
Then of course there is too the similarity in the scientific name! This plant contains dangerous levels of grayanotoxins which will bind to the sodium channels of a chicken’s heart resulting in seizures and convulsions. Ingesting large quantities can result in lasting damage, or death from complications.
Another family of lookalikes that are routinely confused for honeysuckles are azaleas (rhododendrons). Yet another plant with many different types found all around North America, the flowers are typically some delicate shade of pink, and all are packed with dangerously toxic diterpene grayanotoxins.
Poisoning from azaleas is extremely serious for chickens, and can result in heart arrhythmia, tremors, inability to stand, edema, grand mal seizures and death.
These are just two of the many imposter plants that are referred to as honeysuckles sometimes, and instances like this are what will also sometimes see honeysuckles landed on lists of dangerous and toxic plants for chickens.
Beware of Pesticides and Herbicides on Wild Honeysuckle
One more thing you should keep in mind is that wild honeysuckle, at least those that are not growing on your property and under your direct control, could be treated with a variety of pesticides or herbicides, both being chemicals that can harm your chickens.
This is especially pertinent to allowing your flock to chow down on a honeysuckle because invariably these species are hardy, fast growing and highly invasive, meaning that many property owners are Keen to get rid of them by any means necessary.
Even so, once treated the honeysuckle might rebound or show no outward signs of having been dosed.
Since so many common herbicides and pesticides are harmful to chickens and can build up in their tissues over time, you shouldn’t run the risk of feeding wild honeysuckle to your chickens unless you know they are uncontaminated and a non-toxic species.
How Often Can Chickens Have Honeysuckle?
Assuming the honeysuckle is a non-toxic species, your chickens can have it as an occasional treat or supplement to their diet of chicken feed.
Most avian health experts recommend that chickens should subsist primarily on chicken feed, with it making up at least a 90% of their diet.
The remaining 10% of their calorie intake can come from supplemental foods and treats, with honeysuckle included in that 10%.
Generally, so long as your birds are getting plenty of chicken feed and they want to nibble on honeysuckle a little bit when you allow them to range there is no harm in it.
Preparing Honeysuckle for Your Flock
The best way to serve a honeysuckle to your chickens is simply to allow them to eat it wherever they find it in the area, or else you can harvest the honeysuckle and serve it to them as you would with any other supplemental food.
Cooking honeysuckle is not needed or recommended as it will deplete the vitamins and minerals present in the plant, and even in the case of the hardier, tougher species it usually won’t make it any more appealing to your birds.
Save your time and a little bit of aggravation by allowing your flock to eat it raw.
Can Baby Chicks Have Honeysuckle, Too?
Yes, baby chicks may eat honeysuckle but with a couple of caveats. First, you must be absolutely, positively sure that they are not allowed to eat any toxic variety, as they will be even more vulnerable to the harmful compounds in those species.
Second, you should let your chicks get a little bit older before introducing novel foods like honeysuckle to their diet.
Once your chicks reach about 6 weeks of age it is appropriate to allow them to try honeysuckle, or other greenery, for the first time.
As always, make sure you keep an eye on them in case they show signs of distress, indigestion or other problems.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.