Down on the fancy dream farm

Robin Santos aims to make herbalism accessible with her new business, Common Apothecary

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Photo credit: Leili Kasraie
DREAMWEAVER: A glimpse of Robin Santos working in her kitchen behind a hand-painted sign gifted by her grandmother, Irene Long.

Driving up the gravel road to Robin Santos' homestead in Dahlonega, Georgia, the view from the car window is enchanting. Lush trees partition each neighbor's plot, creating intimate sanctuaries. Sunbeams poke through the leaves, revealing flowering bushes and wild chanterelle mushrooms. Bugs and birds chirp from every direction and neighborhood dogs and roosters safely roam free. There's a magical quality in the air it feels cleaner and crisper, almost otherworldly.

Through the slats in the fence surrounding Santos' home, three wagging tails greet visitors with a mix of enthusiasm and trepidation. Bernie, the geriatric pup with expressive eyes, scans and snorts his approval, while the younger two, Timber and Finn, wiggle with anticipation of a new playmate. The house is modest and made of wood, a cozy porch flanked by a garden shed and compost area. The sign in the window, a relic from Santos' grandmother, reads "fancy dream farm.' A bowl of sumac sits on the porch to dry, soon to be jarred and added to the kitchen's wooden apothecary shelf. Within these walls (and the surrounding fields), Santos has all the tools she needs for her latest venture: making herbalism the therapeutic and medicinal use of plants accessible for all.

Santos' new career might come as a surprise to some. For the past six years, she's been hustling as manager of Candler Park Market's deli, gaining a reputation for her business smarts and tenacious work ethic. Since she took over in 2011, the deli and its women-driven staff have become local sensations, known for their drool-worthy sandwiches, burgers, and house-made sides. Although Candler Park Market is expanding, with a new sister location in Grant Park that Santos played a large role in developing, the OG deli babe is stepping down to focus full-time on her fledgling business. Common Apothecary, as it's called, will offer classes, workshops, and online resources for those interested in herbalism and self-care.

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SECRET GARDEN: Santos harvests goldenrod growing on her homestead near Dahlonega.
| Leili Kasraie

"It was really emotionally torturing,' Santos says of the transition, "Because it's kinda like breaking up with someone, you know, that didn't do anything wrong. It was like an 'it's not you, it's me' conversation I'm just really feeling pulled to do other things.'

Through classes at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in North Carolina, intensive self-study, and hands-on training with mentors, Santos has been able to dive deep into her craft. "I'm interested in empowering folks by teaching (them) how to create their own herbal remedies and everyday products in a sustainable way,' she says, "DIY is the heart and soul of Common Apothecary."

Long before Santos was born, her Yiayia (that's Greek for grandmother), Irene Long, was practicing herbal medicine and teaching self-care rituals in Charlotte, North Carolina. Long, a graphic designer by trade, was the kind of woman who would visit California on a whim to learn how to fly a plane by herself. She owned a quirky apothecary shop in the '80s called "A Magick Garden' in which she sold herbs, bath salts, incense, and handmade zines. Santos calls Long her biggest inspiration. "Growing up going to her house meant playing in the garden, reading Tolkien, watching Star Wars, going on trips to botanical gardens, and always receiving many herbal remedies when feeling under the weather,' she recalls.

Since being diagnosed with dementia, Long no longer actively practices herbal medicine, though her legacy lives on. She's passed her library of herbal volumes down to her granddaughter ("basically, my heaven,' says Santos), along with her adventurous spirit and her passion for helping people.

Santos started seriously considering the idea of Common Apothecary about two years ago, around the time that she and her partner of four years, Gaby, got hitched and bought land in North Georgia. The house on the property needed some serious fixing up - the ceiling had caved in, for starters - and the pair took on the project together. They'd make the 90-minute trek to Dahlonega on their two days off a week from their full-time jobs. "It was so hard,' Santos recalls. "We watched a bunch of YouTube videos and kind of (went) with the flow. (There were) a lot of fights and a lot of sleeping without a roof."

But the duo persisted, and nearly two years later, with the homestead structurally sound, the pair is finally able to settle in and focus on what's next. Adjacent to their house are the beginnings of both a vegetable garden and an herbal medicine garden; eventually, they hope to sustain themselves solely from what's growing on their property.

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HAND PICKED: A basket of sumac Santos foraged and left out to dry on her sunny porch
| Leili Kasraie

Roaming around Santos' yard, you'll find a multitude of medicinal plants and herbs including goldenrod (for warding off respiratory or skin allergies), hawthorn (for increasing blood flow and circulation), and holy basil (noted for its effectiveness against anxiety and hypothyroidism) as well as a variety of fruit trees and bushes. "This is called motherwort,' Santos says, tugging on some leaves. "It'll get really big and thorny and mean, but it's really good for people that have that (thorny and mean) type of personality, (to calm them down)."

Inside the house, she opens the creaky doors of her apothecary shelf with pride, revealing carefully organized herbs, a variety of jars, and supplies to make salves, teas, and tinctures. Among her offerings are a "heart heal' tea (said to assist in soothing grief and emotional trauma), a fire cider (a traditional folk remedy to ward off oncoming sickness), and a stress-easing vinegar and honey oxymel she's tentatively dubbed "chill vibes.' "My own mental health is really what got me into wanting to return to herbalism,' she says. "I spend all day every day thinking about this stuff, so it's really nice to share it."

For Santos, Common Apothecary fulfills a calling that's long been in the works. "There wasn't so much of a turning point but more of a deep knowing that I've somehow always been meant for this path,' she says. "Our move to North Georgia really helped solidify that, and helped me see a clearer picture of what the path looked like."


To keep up with Santos' newest offerings and workshops, check out her website and follow Common Apothecary on Facebook.

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