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Free Little Apothecary Pops Up In Little Village Garden As ‘A Love Letter To The Neighborhood’

Jeannine Wise was inspired to start sharing the herbal remedies she made to connect with other gardeners and learn about what they're growing and how they use it.

Jeannine Wise stands among her garden plot at Las Semillas de Justicia Garden Sept. 15, 2022.
Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A community garden on the Southwest Side is now home to a “little free apothecary” — the organizers’ way of giving back to the community through homemade teas, balms and other goodies.

Jeannine Wise, a Little Village neighbor and gardener with Las Semillas De Justicia Garden at 2727 S. Troy St., said she was inspired to get the box installed so she could give away products made from her garden. To Wise, an apothecary sells — or in this case, gives away — products that promote wellbeing through herbal remedies.

“I thought that the apothecary would be a really good way to create and share community intergenerationally and interracially, and that this would spark conversations of, ‘What are you growing? What do you use that for?'” Wise said. “The idea of the apothecary was meant to be a love letter to the neighborhood.”

Most recently, Wise had bags of lemon balm tea and tins of balm made from dried marigolds, a flower commonly seen around Día de Los Muertos. But her garden is thriving and filled with amaranth, spinach, sage, basil and much more, and she hopes to make herbal remedies out of those plants.

Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago/ Provided
Jeannine Wise grows all different kinds of herbs and plants in her garden, and has been making teas, balms and other things to give away through a free apothecary box.

Wise has had a garden plot at Las Semillas since last year, and the idea for the box came to her this summer. She’s in the process of completing a 1,000-hour herbal medicine immersion and a spiritual herbalism apprenticeship to learn more about the practice, Wise said.

One of the garden coordinators built the box by hand, Wise said. Since she started stocking items in it, people have been grabbing them, she said.

“Most of the herbs I’m growing are for the nervous system and the respiratory system, because when you’re living under constant stresses of the school-to-prison pipeline and food apartheid and medical racism and redlining and environmental racism … it really is taking a toll on people’s bodies and health,” Wise said.

Sergio Ruiz, another garden coordinator at Las Semillas through the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said she was “psyched” to hear Wise’s idea for the apothecary, as the group always wants to support gardener-led projects.

“I feel like it’s another way gardeners can learn from one another,” Ruiz said. “It fit into our whole idea of what we want the garden to be.”

Wise said most of her working life has been dedicated to health, food and agriculture and how these topics intersect. She was previously a chef in restaurants, but she now works for nonprofit Good Food Is Good Medicine to teach people cooking classes in their own homes.

“My whole life is all about how we can support and nourish each other and ourselves and meet people where they are,” she said.

Wise and Ruiz said they hope more people get involved in making things for the apothecary and the idea spreads to other gardens.

Wise said anyone interested in learning how they can donate to the free apothecary can reach out via Instagram.

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