By James Slone, Illustrations by Minh Nguyen
Originally published in Ampersand Magazine
Western Washington is a gardener’s paradise. Our mild maritime climate, rich soil and extensive network of community gardens make growing edible plants relatively easy for the green-thumbed. Most of us stick to the predictable assortment of fruits and veggies. But there are some uniquely original outsiders edging in. Some are mossy old timers local tribes have cultivated for centuries; others are fresh-faced newcomers brought here by horticultural pioneers. More recently, immigrants and refugees have been growing a cosmopolitan cornucopia. These are the upstarts, rebels and future favorites of the Pacific Northwest garden.
Native peoples in the Pacific Northwest have used Licorice Fern as food and medicine for centuries, chewing its licorice-flavored root or brewing it as tea to treat sore throats. As an epiphyte, or plant that feeds on other plants, its preferred growing spot is on the bigleaf maple and other mossy trees. But transplanting it into a bed of moss or plant debris will help it take root.