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Waterloo soap maker adds healing to the mix 

Products not only cleanses but are also good for what ails

By John E. Harper

For the News-Democrat

January 22, 2007

WATERLOO - Driving near the Waterloo downtown square, you wouldn't know that on the second floor of one of those beautifully restored historic old buildings is a soap-making company.

The business is called Wildflower and Thyme Soap Co., which offers a complete line of homemade fragrant old-fashioned lye soaps, along with healing salves, body creams and lip balms.

The building also is the home of the owner of the business, Cynthia Cook, and her husband, Jack Greer.

Cook said she got into the business because she was interested in complementary and alternative health care.

"I had an interest in aromatherapy and its therapeutic effect," she said. "I was also interested in natural products, rather than products that use a lot of chemicals."

Cook and Greer sell their products in a 50-mile radius of Waterloo at weekend craft fairs and markets. Her soaps, body creams, salves and lip balms also are sold at Mill Street Treasures in Waterloo. 

Robin Siedle of Waterloo discovered Cook's products online and is a regular customer now. 

"Oh, the lovely smells," Siedle said, smiling. "I like her packaging and the prints that uses, too. They make great gifts." 

In the 1990s, Cook was the chairwoman of the Complementary and Alternative Healthcare Committee at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis and today teaches a course in complementary and alternative health care at St. Louis University.

Cook started her soap-making after taking a soap-making class at Southwestern Illinois College. She took her products to the weekly Farmer's Market in Waterloo and sold a few bars. 

"My teacher at SWIC, Gary Olds, of O'Fallon, does soap-making demonstrations at Branson, Mo., so he's the one who taught me originally. In the early stages of my business, he was really supportive."

At those classes, Cook said she learned how to buy the supplies and make the products in the chemistry lab at the college. "So I got to see how old fashioned lye soap is made," she said.

"When you think of old fashioned lye soap, you're talking about oils and lye water. Once you combine those, you get pure soap." Cook said most over-the-counter bars of soaps sold in the supermarkets are really detergent bars. "When you look at the long list of chemicals, it's really scary," she said.

Cook explained that lye is a bee, and when it mixes with the oils (fats), there's a process that takes place called "saponification." All the molecules of the lye water and oils meld together to make the end product: pure soap, with natural glycerin the by-product. Clycerin pulls in the moisture from the air, so it's not as dry, she said.

After Cook completed her classes, she said she came home and began experimenting. 

"I remember she had lye burns under her arms," Greer said.

Cook got her husband involved when she was done experimenting and ready to start selling. In 2004, when Greer became her business partner, "That really the beginning of when our business was created," she said. "Jack is really good at sales." 

"The healing salve has really been a success. We've also done really well with our body creams," she said. "It's really a good feeling to sell something you believe in."