"Behind all disease lie our fears, our anxieties, our greed, our likes and dislikes," wrote Edward Bach (1886 – 1936), a respected English physician and homeopath. His dissatisfaction with orthodox medicine’s focus on diseases rather than on the people suffering from them led him to create flower remedies, a subtle form of energy medicine Bach was convinced could help people heal themselves, working within the patterns of nature. Proponents believe flower remedies restore balance to the psyche and spirit, removing emotional barriers to health and well-being.
What are Flower Essences?
Like herbal remedies, flower ess-ences are made from plants. However, while herbs contain measurable compounds that stimulate physical healing, flower essences are highly dilute substances chosen for their vibrational energy rather than their physiological effects. (It’s interesting to note that in shamanic healing, plants also are valued for their vibrational energies.)
To make flower essences, fresh flowers are picked in the early morning and steeped in a crystal bowl of spring water in full sunlight for three hours. The flowers are then removed from the water with a twig from the same plant or tree. After being further diluted, the essence is preserved with brandy.
Technically, the term “flower remedy” refers to one of the original 38 remedies developed by Bach, which strict Bach practitioners believe can address any emotional or spiritual problem. The term “flower essence” is given to the hundreds of additional flower remedies that have been created by other practitioners since Bach completed his work. Many practitioners believe that because the world has changed significantly since Bach’s death in 1936, a greater variety of flower remedies is needed.
Bach’s Flower Fascination
Bach’s disenchantment with conventional medicine inspired him to investigate what we now call vibrational medicine — a form that encourages healing by restoring balance to what practitioners believe is the subtle energy field of the body. Homeopathy, acupuncture and psychic healing are well-known examples of energy medicine.
Bach was fascinated by the effect of flowers on the human psyche and noted that specific plants had an observable influence on emotional states.
In the 1930s, Bach explored the wildflowers native to the English countryside and used intuition and experimentation to develop 38 different remedies that addressed the negative emotional states he believed were the underlying causes of all emotional and physical illnesses. In Bach’s words, flower remedies “flood our natures with the particular virtue we need, and wash out from us the fault which is causing harm.”
“We can use common sense to understand how flowers affect us,” says Patricia Kaminski, executive director of the Flower Essence Society in Nevada City, California. “Flowers are the language of emotions. We give flowers when we want to express a feeling — for example, joy at a wedding or grief at a funeral. It’s an innate response in human beings to look at flowers and respond through emotions — flowers provide us with an immediate connection into our soul.”
Lightening our Interior Landscape
Lindi Hobongwana, an herbalist and medical assistant in Ashland, Oregon, relies on Rescue Remedy, perhaps the best-known flower remedy, as an essential part of her first-aid kit for treating acute emotional and physical stress.
“There are times when all of the responsibilities and commitments I have in my life get to be too much, and I suddenly feel overwhelmed,” Hobongwana says. “I go into a state of panic — my chest and throat tighten up, I can’t breathe, and I feel like I’m going to snap under the pressure.” At these times, Hobongwana takes Rescue Remedy. “Within five or 10 minutes, I notice a subtle shift,” she says. “I feel calm, centered and capable of dealing with the situation.”
Hobongwana also has had success in treating animals with flower essences. When her cat was hit by a car, she gave the cat Rescue Remedy and found that it immediately calmed her pet.
According to Kaminski, flower essences are not a mystical or faith-based system of healing. “We lack adequate language to explain how flower essences work, but the subtle energies that surround the human body are analogous to electricity or radio waves, which we can’t see but definitely exist,” she says.
Alleviating emotional stress is one of the most popular uses for flower remedies. The list of emotional and physical problems that have been linked to stress is long because chronic stress keeps the body in a state of alert readiness for action. This state floods the cells with stress hormones that elevate blood pressure, suppress immune function, interfere with proper digestion and increase blood sugar levels.
Family and relationship conflicts, worries about money, time pressures and even seemingly positive events such as marriage, a vacation or moving to a new home all add stress to everyday life. However, the most important factor in how we respond to a stressful event is not the event itself but our interpretation of it. And that interpretation depends largely on an individual’s personality structure. For example, a tendency to take on too much responsibility can create stress, as can excessive fear, ruminating about past events or being impatient.
Identifying these negative personality traits and shifting them into a more positive state is the goal of flower essence therapy. “Flower essences serve as catalysts to stimulate inner transformation,” Kaminski says. “They help us learn the lessons of an ailment and meet the challenges presented to our souls by emotional and physical pain and suffering.”
Collecting the Data
It seems Bach was on the right track when he postulated the interrelationship of the mind and body. The birth of the science of psychoneuroimmunology in the past 25 years is proving what he intuitively knew — emotions have a measurable effect on the body. Thoughts become electrical impulses that affect hormones, neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, all of which carry messages to cells throughout the body.
The next step is proving that flower essences have a measurable effect on the mind and body, and that’s a primary goal of the Flower Essence Society, which collects both clinical and research data from therapists, researchers and other practitioners from around the world.
Jeffrey Cram, Ph.D., director of the Sierra Health Institute in Nevada City, California, has been conducting scientific, placebo-controlled studies on flower essences for the past several years. In two different studies using biofeedback equipment to monitor stress responses, he found that people who were given Rescue Remedy (also known as Five-Flower Formula) were less negatively affected by stress than those who were given a placebo. While hundreds of subjective reports by clinicians report the effectiveness of flower essences, these are the first objective scientific studies to scientifically verify the effect of flower essences on the body.
Flower essences are best used within the context of supportive inner work, such as counseling and other methods of self-exploration.
— Patricia Kaminski
Most health-food stores sell a wide array of flower essences; you also can buy them by mail order. Flower essences can be taken directly from the bottle by placing the drops under your tongue, or they can be diluted in a small amount of water. The standard dose of a flower essence is four drops four times a day. The remedies also can be dabbed on the temples, wrists and other pulse points, or, for pets, applied to the muzzle and paws. Some remedies are formulated without alcohol for alcohol-sensitive people.
For maximum effectiveness, Kaminski suggests taking flower essences when you first awaken, prior to lunch and dinner and again just before sleeping. Although four times a day is ideal, it’s also OK to take flower essences two or three times daily if it’s not possible to take them more often. Because flower essences have no harmful side effects, they can safely be used by pregnant women, children and others who must use caution when taking prescription and over-the-counter medications.
When using Rescue Remedy, the equivalent of flower essence first aid for acute stress, you’ll feel the results almost immediately. Other flower essences that work on deeper underlying issues can take days or weeks to demonstrate noticeable effects. Most practitioners suggest taking a flower remedy for a month or two. It’s also common to switch to a different remedy if new issues emerge after the top layer of stress has been resolved.
Don’t expect radical changes because flower essences don’t suppress symptoms. Proponents regard flower essences more as a tool for developing self-awareness. You’ll still experience your emotions, but you’ll have a greater understanding of yourself. This deeper understanding often leads to the identification of core personality issues that are uncovered as the flower essences perform their subtle healing work. “For greatest effectiveness, flower essences are best used within the context of supportive inner work, such as counseling and other methods of self-exploration,” Kaminski explains. This is the opposite of quelling your anxiety or other symptoms with tranquilizers or similar drugs.
If you are skeptical about flower essences, the best way to allay your doubts might be to give them a try. They can’t hurt, and they might provide the gentle nudge you need to view your problems from a whole new perspective.
Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs and natural healing from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 14-Day Herbal Cleansing (Prentice Hall, 1998) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).