Pilsen plant shop growing community 1 seed at a time

CHICAGO -- When Angelica Varela thinks of childhood, she's surrounded by lush plants in her Mexican grandmother's home. If Varela had a bad day, her grandmother would set a plant before her and tell her to describe its every detail. By shifting her focus to plants, Varela felt a boost in her mental health.

Though her grandmother wouldn't call it "mental health," Varela unknowingly learned plant-medicine techniques that eased her anxiety and depression.

"Growing up, especially in a Latino household, there's no such thing as depression or anxiety. My family has really gone through the ups and the downs, and they just dealt with it," Varela recounted.

So when the pandemic hit and Varela found her mental health in flux, she went back to her roots.

"I've always had plants, but I was always working. And I think that once I got laid off, I was able to focus on my plants," Varela recalled. "Once I started collecting a little bit more, it took me back to our motherland. I started getting more in-tune with my culture (and) that kind of eased that depression and anxiety, in a sense where I was figuring out who I was."

As Varela connected with her past to ground herself in the present, she had an idea that would change her future. In July of 2020, Varela opened Semillas Plant Studio in hopes of sharing her cultural knowledge of plant medicine with Chicago's Pilsen community, where she grew up.

"I really believe in plant therapy and plant medicine," Varela said. "I want to have a space where it's my sanctuary, but it's a sanctuary that I can share with everybody."

"Semillas," meaning seeds in Spanish, is both a nod to creating a business rooted in her heritage and to her mission to give back to the community. Varela collaborates with various local artists and entrepreneurs, allowing them to sell their goods in her studio, and thus giving them the space to plant their own "semillas" in the community.

Visit SemillasPlantStudio.com for more information.