Susan Belsinger's house is, quite literally, in the middle of the woods. Her home, located in Brookville, Md., is surrounded by green plants and edible flowers, which serve a variety of purposes.
"Herbs are what my life is all about," says Belsinger, who is cookbook author. "I use them to develop recipes and cook with. [They] make foods taste better. I also use them for aromatherapy, and medicinally."
She says some of the plants, flowers and weeds are filled with nutrients that many people don't know about.
"So here we have violets," says Belsinger, in her yard. "The leaves and flowers are edible. They taste like a mild, green lettuce, very high in vitamin A and C. Everything that is a weed here that people would pull out, I leave in if it's not invading. They have a lot of trace minerals and vitamins that our regular plants we grow don't have."
As she continues walking, Belsinger points out different things she uses for salads and syrups, tinctures and tonics. Bee balm tastes great in tea and spicebush goes in stew, comfrey helps a sore ankle. These plants are all very common, and everything is good for something.
After the tour, Belsinger wanders back into the house, where rows of mortars and pestles mingle with orchids on sunny shelves, dozens of well-used skillets hang from the ceiling, and bundles of dried herbs hang from the rafters.
She says she is going to cook a frittata. In the kitchen, the wilderness is arrayed on the counters. Homegrown chard, mustard, beet leaves and kale fan out like a peacock's tail. All the weeds she has collected on a recent walk are in the sink under well water.
"That's the wood sorrel, this is the lamb's quarters, and this is the violets," she explains. There's also purslane, a nutritious weed, and orange nasturtium flowers.
Belsinger sautés the chopped greens with oil and homegrown onions, and then gets the eggs ready. After the greens wilt down, she pours in the eggs and some grated cheese.
Belsinger says she discovered the many uses of wild greens when she was in Europe. The plants and weeds are big part of the Mediterranean diet.
"There are so many vitamins and nutrients in these that you don't get from our regularly grown vegetables," she says. "They detoxify, they tonify, they're really good, and it's sad that we don't eat more of them."
A few minutes later, it's time to eat. Belsinger rubs mint leaves around the rim of glasses she fills with iced tea. The tea itself is flavored with lemon and bergamot scented bee balm flowers from the garden. It's like drinking perfume and taking a cool shower in summer--really refreshing.
The main course comes out. The golden brown and green frittata is brought to the table. The dish is an explosion of flavors: garlic, kale and nettle.
"You can get the bitter and the tart, and the deep, herby green flavor," she says.
It has an after-aroma. That's when you really feel the kind of woodiness of it.
[Music: "Hey, Good Lookin'" by Ray Charles from "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music"]
Photos: Wild Kitchen