Wilton focuses on selling plants at Smile Herb Shop


January 13, 1995|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

Herb repel fleas and moths, help cure colds, quicken the body's healing process, calm menstrual cramps and can easily be grown in your backyard. Or so folk wisdom says.

Ask Leroy Wilton.

He has been growing several varieties of herbs in his yard at Harlem and Catherine avenues in Pasadena and selling them at the Severna Park Farmer's market and local health food stores for 13 years.

This year, though, he is reducing the size of his Pasadena operation and plans to do most of his business from the Smile Herb Shop in College Park.

Clad in brown rubber boots, black sweat pants, a tan smock and a blue sweat shirt inscribed "Wilton the Herbman," he walked through his large garden of herbs yesterday, explaining what each one can do.

The tables were filled with trays of small drooping plants: lemon balm to repel mosquitoes, rosemary for cooking, arugula, yarrow, silver thyme, spearmint, peppermint.

The list goes on.

"I always liked nature," the 55-year-old man said. "I always liked to help people with healing."

He learned about healing from a bloody accident at home.

"I cut my hand with a can top. It should have taken about 26 stitches. I used some aloe and comfrey leaves to heal it," he said, stretching out the palm of his right hand, where a sign of the scar from the cut is barely visible.

"Sometimes I strain my eyes trying to look for it," he said.

Mr. Wilton's fascination with herbs began when he was a steel pourer for Armco Steel in Baltimore.

He was worrying about inhaling toxins in the plant when a co-worker told him about vitamins E and C, reputed to help the lungs filter toxins.

As he visited health food stores and spoke with owners, he became increasingly interested in growing herbs.

By 1982, he was growing and selling them from his home.

Two years later, he was selling herbs at several health food stores and at the Severna Park Farmer's Market during the spring.

In August, Mr. Wilton cut out sales at the health food stores to concentrate on the College Park location, where he has two greenhouses, rows of tables, and yards of soft, fertilized ground for the tender plants.

His garden, the Smile-Wilton International herb garden, will flourish with more than 275 varieties of herbs from around the world and more than 30 hot peppers, including habanero, one of the world's hottest.

Tom Wolfe, owner of the Smile Herb Shop, said Mr. Wilton's plants will be a wonderful addition to the dried herbs, herb extracts and capsules the shop already sells.

"Now we can show the people the herbs are a living thing," Mr. Wolfe said, holding a sprig of fresh rosemary he would use to make soup. "We call them our green angels."

Mr. Wilton said he will begin teaching free classes on how to grow, harvest and cook with herbs on Saturdays next month.

In the spring, the shop also will feature the indigenous music, food and herbs of a different country each month.

Here is a recipe with the herb rosemary:

Baked Potatoes with Rosemary

Serves 4

4 large Idaho baking potatoes

1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

several sprigs of fresh rosemary

freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut each potato into thick slices. Reassemble in the shape of the potato and set on aluminum foil sheets.

Place onions and rosemary between each slice. Sprinkle with pepper and trickle a tablespoon of melted butter over each potato. Wrap tightly in the foil, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

For the last 15 minutes of baking, open the foil, but do not unwrap potatoes completely, or slices may separate.

To serve, roll back the foil halfway, allowing potato-onion combination to keep its shape.

Mr. Wilton can be reached at the Smile Herb Shop on Tuesdays and Thursdays at (301) 474-4288. All other days he can be reached at (410) 647-1561.

For a list of herbs and prices, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Smile Herb Shop, 4908 Berwyn Road, College Park 20740.

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