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3/21/2013 11:36:00 AM
Love of flowers and herbs leads to a lifetime of perfecting her inner alchemist
BY DENISE MARTIN
The practice of alchemy, by its prime definition, is the attempt to transmute base metal into more precious forms, making lead into gold, etc. In the more contemporary application, alchemy has come to describe just about any chemistry of the Middle Ages.
In some reference books, the second half of the word; chemy, is defined as from Greek for pouring, infusing, as in studying the juices of plants. Kym Groves of Taylors Falls hasn’t yet found a way to make gold from plain metals-- but through perfecting her skills at alchemy she has learned how to turn plant juices into a paycheck.
Since beginning her home-based parfumerie, The Alchemist in 1977, Groves has developed an extensive product list that now includes lotions, balms and salts for various ailments, exfoliating scrubs, mineral based cosmetics and diffusers for non-chemical home fragrance delivery. Competing in a “Health & Beauty” market that offers consumers a range of choices from utter junk to the exotic and ultra-expensive; Groves has found a niche; much the way craft beer makers are holding their own up against the mass-produced brews.
In honor of National Fragrance Day, March 21-- we spent some time with this local purveyor of a thousand good smelling things at her home workshop. Groves is serious about the entire discipline of using aroma for improving your being. She says the possibilities are almost endless as she seeks to develop new goods, anything you can add fragrance to. Hopefully she says, she might even leave a strong foundation for her family’s entrepreneurial future.
Aromatic essences have a track record of thousands of years for curing aches, joint and muscle pain to improving your mood and even improving your sense of taste. Groves said she was always interested in things that grew; herbs and flowers mostly at first. A close relative of hers also had a moonshine operation when she was little, making spirits in Ohio, where she is from originally. Who knows, maybe there is a gene for the desire to distill?
Groves eventually came to learn about alchemy using a distilling apparatus she had custom-made at the university; believing that it would be interesting to try to reduce bushels of flowers into essential oils. The production of aromatic products can also involve compressing raw materials or evaporating others for their essences. Groves’ work space gradually filled with shelves and tabletops stocked with the foundational “notes” of aromas that go into her products. Groves mixes the oils and resins in various quantities to order. She also makes powders, scrubs and salts from scratch that promise to soothe, awaken, or repair your senses. Not all of her efforts end in success.
Being self-taught over decades, there have been flops. One batch of lotion she was experimenting with came out more like shaving cream. “I put in too much air.” It’s like writing music, Groves continued, “I do what I like and put it out there.” Either people buy it or they don’t. But, Groves doesn’t just toil alone in her workshop. She traveled to India, which is where people go searching for plant and herbal wisdom. They still use ceramic distilling apparatus probably not much different from when the original spice routes were opened, she said. The trip was like a pilgrimage, Groves says as she plucks bottles off storage shelves for the reporter to inhale combinations of ancient essences. Personally though, a really keen, plain rose note remains one of her favorites. You can’t find The Alchemist products in stores (yet).
Groves does have a display once a month, in the Treasure Alley occasional sale building, in St. Croix Falls. The next sale dates are April 10 to 14. She also has a site for a few weeks every year at the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, where she was a vendor of small bouquets and produce, even before she incorporated The Alchemist. A medieval cottage is now her Festival home, complete with a distilling apparatus where Renaissance Festival visitors get a lesson in alchemy 101. Working from home has been ideal for this mother of five girls and one son. The kids have pitched in when they are able and there’s one daughter who may carry on the business, Groves hopes. Another daughter is designing an improved website. Groves has also ventured into offering a line of oils for use in food preparation, also selling spices and aromatic vinegars.
Concentrations of garlic, peppers, citrus, etc. look to be this Alchemist’s new frontier. For products and details see or call 651-465-4565 for a brochure.