Joy meets health at College Park’s Smile Herb Shop
Written by: Angelina Santos 🇵🇷
Students at College Park know that the city can house some true gems if you know where to look, and one of which can be found off-campus in a very charming yet old house.
Tucked behind the Berwyn neighborhood lies a place that feels like magic from the moment you step on their porch. Smile Herb Shop is aesthetically a maximalist's dream and has a whimsical vibe that is a stark contrast to the bustling highway Route 1 it is close to.
I came across the shop on a walk with a friend. Never shying away from an adventure, I had to take a look. The store’s name called out to me, as well as the fact that it was an herb shop running out of what looked like an old yet endearing house.
The house itself has its own interesting history that dates before the shop's connection to it. The story behind Smile Herb Shop can be read on several plaques along the left-hand wall of the porch upon entrance. It reads the story of how the shop came to be, beginning in the early 70s.
The shop was founded in the early 1970’s by Sweet Cicely, an eccentric woman passionate about sharing her love of plants and the earth with others. Ownership has since been passed down to Tom Wolfe, who found a love for herbs while running the store for a summer in 1975.
Some of the store's original customers still visit to this day. The typical Smile Herb Shop customer varies across the board, but they have built up a very welcoming and sweet community between clinicians, shop, and visitors.
There’s an emphasis on holistic health at this shop, and the mix of customers that come through the doors are interested in finding help outside of the western medical health system.
This place feels different from the typical place you go to for health, focusing on the fact that health goes beyond the physical. The staff explained to me how blood pressure, for example, can be fixed with medicine but also with stress management. They even sell a tea blend for blood pressure and many other ailments.
People come looking for a connection to their heritage. Visitors meet metaphysical needs at the shop, on their sort of magical or spiritual journeys. The managers shared that sometimes people also come in just looking to catch up with Wolfe.
The staff is well educated on their different methods whether it’s Chinese traditional medicines, herbs, etc. They engage in self-study, and training as well. Visitors also have opportunities to learn from the shop at occasional free or paid workshops. The shop even held an opportunity to work between a herbalist and your primary health care system.
Although there are your typical health products available for purchase, Smile Herb Shop wants people to realize that health and wellness includes “the body, mind and spirit.”
The store sells all sorts of things, housing items and products that seem practical (Spices, Supplements, Skincare etc.) to things that some might think of as strictly spiritual. As what Gen-Z might call a “crystal girl” or “astrology girl,” I was stunned to see they sold books on crystals, manifestation objects, but also herbs for teas and cooking. This only scratches the surface of things they sell both in store and on their website.
The soft-spoken and serene floor manager, Yaya Patterson, told me that her favorite product they sell is the Banyan healthy hair oil which she described as, “Just so nice. It’s this beautiful ayurvedic oil blend that has bhringraj and amla and rose and hibiscus. It smells just like wine when I cover my hair strands with it. I rinse it out and I have the shiniest hair. It’s my main hair conditioner.”
When I sat down with two of the managers, they shared that the UMD population of customers is growing because of the increasing interest in indigenous medicines. The “magical” products have also been of interest to younger generations as well. Notably, she mentioned the rising popularity of smoke blends. It has become important to younger customers, spiritually and medicinally. I was surprised to hear that some indigenous people used to smoke mullein to help with bronchitis and even asthma.
“I sort of discovered the shop towards the end of college. I went to UMD as well, and I was really burnt out. That was part of why I landed here so intensely. Western medicine couldn’t address what was going on with me. At all, which was a scary place to be, but then it brought me here,” manager Nicole Smile said.
Western medicine does not necessarily apply to many cultures, and I was curious to know how open UMD students would be to the health services or teas that the shop provides. Senior Public Health major Nicole Presentado shared that she would be willing to try it.
“I think that holistic health is a great initial method to heal your body. Growing up in a Latina household, my mom always told me about the benefits of teas and lemons to heal a cold. Different teas have so many great benefits.” Presentado said.
Yaya, who is a rootworker, wanted our readers to know that “We are nature. Our ancestors, they knew this and they lived like that. The best type of way to heal your body is connection with the Earth. This is how it’s done. It’s been done this way for millenniums, even older, so there’s nothing more human than healing yourself with tea.”
The staff is patient, kind and welcoming. For those who are nervous to go in or ask questions, the staff are happy to help with an ailment or answer any inquiries. Part of the shop’s novelty is the personality and personalization of the service. They are very open to the conversation behind what they sell and do. It can be quite educational and eye-opening.
My friends joke that I am a “brujita”, but every time I leave Smile Herb Shop, I leave with pictures in my camera roll, a story to tell, and something on my mind.
If you need some tea between exams, are looking for spirituality to guide you through the stress of college life, or just want to see something interesting in the area, Smile Herb Shop is worth the stop.