As I wrote in a recent issue of Seattle Magazine, now is the time to seek out one of the Pacific Northwest’s most striking ferns for your summertime mixology needs—before it retires for the year. The licorice fern is a beauty that lives in colonies in mixed lower-elevation forests, often well up in the tree canopy.
I typically see it adorning mossy big-leaf maples, where its roots, known as rhizomes, form an interconnected latticework beneath the moss. It will also colonize suitably moss-covered alders, madrones, and even glacial erratics, those big boulders left over from the last Ice Age that sometimes squat unaccountably in the middle of the woods. The key is finding some within reach.
Licorice ferns in abundance will form green waves undulating through the forest until the heat of summer causes the waves to collapse and the individual ferns to whither away. With winter rains they come back to life: just add water.
The flavor of the root is licorice-like, yes, and also spicy like fresh ginger. Infused in water or vodka, it makes a slightly picante syrup or liqueur that will remind you of the mesmerizing glades of spring licorice fern as you sip a thirst-quenching summer cocktail.
1. Peel and chop a few finger-length pieces of licorice fern root.
2. Cover chopped roots in a half-pint canning jar with vodka (for a liqueur) or water (for a syrup).
3. Refrigerate for two to three weeks, shaking every few days.
4. Strain and measure liquid. Make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar that is half the amount of reserved liquid. For example, with my 2/3 cup of fern-infused liquid I made a syrup with 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. To make the syrup, boil the water and whisk in sugar until fully dissolved. Allow syrup to cool, then add to reserved liquid.
Licorice fern liqueur can jazz up a refreshing glass of soda water, improve a cheap prosecco, or comfortably join the other esoteric mixers at your cocktail bar.