Will travel for lavender

01 May 2012 | 05:21

Four eager women crowd into a shed-sized storefront, sipping hibiscus tea with lemongrass and ginger crystals out of paper cups. One eyes a brown sugar foot scrub, another, originally from South Africa, gazes at a jar of loose rooibos tea.

“My kids grew up on this,” she said. “For me to come in and see something that’s part of my world…”

They have driven an hour from Morris County, NJ as the field trip – and “the main point” – of an eight-week course on incorporating herbs into your life. Apparently, there is no other store like Sugar Loaf Mountain Herbs around. For Jean Murphy, the teacher of the herb class, shopping here is like flipping through the Sears Roebuck Wishbook as a kid. All the dolls, toys, everything you wanted.

“There are days I’m having a cruddy day, I’ll drive up to the store to be with the plants,” said Murphy. “I always feel better when I leave.”

When a couple from Lafayette Hill, PA comes in, the occupancy of the store reaches eight. That means that when one person decides to move from the lotions to the apothecary, a subtle rotation sends everyone in a clockwise browse.

“I’m always wanting more space,” said owner Alicia Frosini. The store doubles as Frosini’s studio; the counter is the work table where she blends teas. The teas are a combination of home-grown herbs (“my nettles are gangbuster,” said Frosini. “One year I grew pots of it and and now they’re all over.”) and mostly organic mail order ingredients.

But she and her husband also have a business selling herbs and flowers wholesale, and a bigger store would mean a longer to-do list. It wouldn’t do for the owner of a store dedicated to wellness to be stressed. “In some ways, it’s good that I have space limitations. I’m almost glad.”

Frosini, a lanky freckled woman in her 50s, grew up working in greenhouses in Bergen County. When she moved to Sugar Loaf and started digging up old medicine bottles in her garden, she knew she’d uncovered her calling: the connection between herbs and health. In her store’s seven years in business, “I’ve gotten more people, even kids, off soda,” she said.