Distilling The Essence Of The Forest: Ent Draught
If you’ve ever walked through a damp forest after a heavy rain, you’ve experienced the near-euphoric scent of those saturated woods. It’s layers and layers of complexity, with resinous pine notes and soft, enveloping fungal base, accented with the spiciness of cedar or the mystique of licorice ferns. Perhaps you, like me, have wished you could bottle up all of that forest-y goodness to sip later. If only the spirit of the forest could be distilled into a magical elixir!
That thought reminded me of the infamous “Ent Draught” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy:
“The drink was like water, indeed very like the taste of the draughts they had drunk from the Entwash near the borders of the forest, and yet there was some scent or savour in it which they could not describe; it was faint, but it reminded them of the smell of a distant wood borne from afar by a cool breeze at night. The effect of the draught began at the toes, and rose steadily through every limb, bringing refreshment and vigour as it coursed upwards, right to the tips of the hair… He poured them out two full bowls from a stone jar; but from a different jar. The taste was not the same as it had been the night before: it was earthier and richer, more sustaining and food-like, so to speak.”
This clear liquid was a source of nourishment to the Ents (tall, tree-like beings) and had magical properties when consumed by other races. The two Hobbits that sampled it grew a couple of inches taller than any of their compatriots as a result! These mysterious waters seemed to have been made with river-water, but flavored with other ingredients. I like to imagine they were a distillation of the forest itself.
If you’ve ever wished you could bottle up all of those beautiful complexities to enjoy later, the good news is: you can! That deep forest scent can literally be distilled into a flavorful beverage as clear as water. This is called a “hydrosol,” and is sometimes used in herbal medicine to make lotions, sprays, or other preparations. Hydrosols hold the water-soluble properties of plants without any of their coloration. Usually these are prepared in a still, but you can create your own distillation setup in your kitchen! (Note that distilling alcohol at home is illegal, but creating hydrosols is perfectly legal and simple.) Hydrosols do not last as long as other preparations such as essential oils, infused vinegars, or dried teas, but they are a lovely encapsulation of the flavor of botanicals.
Here’s the basic technique: Put a few inches of water in the bottom of a large stock pot along with your herbs and botanicals. Place a heat-proof bowl in the middle, making sure it’s tall enough to stay above the level of the water (if you need it to be a little higher, just place it on top of another overturned bowl.) Then, flip the lid upside-down over the pot - the knob should be on the inside, directly above the bowl. Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle simmer over low heat, then fill the inside of the lid with ice. The infused steam will rise from the bottom of the pot, then condense on the bottom of the ice-filled lid. It will then run down the slope of the lid onto the knob, then drip into the bowl below. Carefully touch the outside of the pot to feel the temperature difference to determine water levels. Add more water as needed until you have your desired amount of forest elixir. Once it’s finished, chill and serve over ice.
Developing your Forest Liquor is a manner of your own personal taste. Pay attention to the scents that catch your focus as you take a leisurely walk in wet woods. Notice the layers of complexity and they way they all interact to create that incredible fragrance. You may want to layer fir, pine, or spruce boughs with medicinal mushrooms such as turkey tail or chaga, then add a bit of licorice fern for its spiced flavor or rose or elderflower blossoms for a floral top note. Make sure that whatever you use is edible and safe; if you don’t feel comfortable foraging ingredients you can always use a blend of herbs or teas from the store.
Ah, how refreshing was that? A drink worthy of the elves themselves, I do believe!
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