What Is It?
Bach flower remedies use extracts from the flowering parts of plants to counteract emotional states that are thought to contribute to physical illness. The flower remedies were developed in the late 1920s and early 1930s by Dr. Edward Bach (pronounced “botch”), an English physician and homeopath. Bach strongly believed that emotions–such as fear, uncertainty, oversensitivity, jealousy, despondency, and anger–predisposed his patients to certain diseases.
As Bach strove to develop a method of healing that would treat these emotional states, he began to investigate the healing powers of wildflowers native to the Welsh and English countryside. By initially testing his remedies on himself, and then on his patients, Bach found, for example, that wild rose could relieve apathy; olive could improve mental and physical exhaustion; mustard could dispel deep gloom; and holly could soothe pangs of envy.
By the time he died at age 50 in 1936, the doctor had come up with 38 flowering plants and trees that, when prepared by a special process he had developed, could relieve certain emotional and psychological conditions. He also produced a special five-flower combination remedy he called “Rescue Remedy,” which he recommended for use in times of crisis.
While today floral practitioners from many countries utilize far more than Bach’s original 38 flower remedies, his original findings remain at the core of flower therapy.
How Does It Work?
While there are no scientific studies to prove the effect of Bach flower remedies, a good deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that they can work, particularly in helping to relieve the stress or depression that is at the heart of many ailments.
The flower remedies are administered as tinctures, or diluted solutions of the flowers in an alcohol base. True Bach solutions are made by a specific method prescribed by the man himself: The blossoms of the respective flowers are floated in pure spring water for a number of hours, then mixed with 80 proof brandy. This mixture (called the “mother essence”) is then diluted several more times before it is used. Certain flowers may also be boiled in spring water to extract their essence. Indeed, the amount of actual “flower” present in the final dilution is so small you needn’t worry about allergy problems.
Typically two to four drops of a tincture are placed under the tongue four times a day, or a few drops are put in a glass of water or juice and sipped three or four times a day. The tinctures can also be applied topically or added to a bath. More than one flower remedy, and up to seven, may be used at one time. As a person’s emotional state changes and improves, the appropriate floral remedies may need to be adjusted, too.
What You Can Expect
To learn about Bach flower remedies, you can consult an herbalist, homeopath, or other practitioner trained in selecting the tinctures. Because the remedies treat emotions believed to underlie disease, rather than the disease itself, your visit to a practitioner will probably begin with a discussion of your emotional state and how it relates to any health problems you’re having.
If you suffer fom arthritis, for example, the practitioner will try to determine how you are feeling about your ailment. Perhaps you’re depressed because having arthritis means you can’t jog anymore; in this case, you will be given a Bach flower remedy to ease your depression. Or maybe you’re afraid that your arthritis will cause you to lose your mobility and that you’ll become dependent on others; if so, you will be given a flower remedy to counteract your fears.
Bach flower treatments are generally administered until the problematic emotional state is relieved. Some users report that this happens with one dose. Others find that they need a longer-term course of treatment, perhaps up to six months or a year, especially for deeper-seated emotional problems that sometimes recur when the remedy is stopped.
Even if a remedy doesn’t work, it won’t do you any harm, as long as it is not substituted for medical care. It is important to note, however, that the remedies are recommended only for treating existing emotions, not for preventing future emotions from coming on.
If you choose to use the remedies without the help of a practitioner, you’ll find that they are widely available in health-food stores. The store may stock an information pamphlet to help you determine which remedy or remedies you need for treating a particular emotional state. Or, you may prefer to consult one of the many books available on Bach and his remedies.
The following list of flowers and their uses was created by Bach himself in the early twentieth century and continues to be used today. Read the choices carefully, weighing whether the characteristics described for the particular flower essence apply to you. Select one or more (up to seven) and use as described above.
Aspen: For vague fears and anxieties of unknown origin or a sense of foreboding. Cherry Plum: For an inclination to uncontrollable rages and impulses, or losing one’s temper. (Note: If symptoms are severe, help from a good therapist is recommended.) Mimulus: For known fears, such as the dark, aggressive dogs, illness or pain; for encouraging the timid or very shy. Red Chestnut: For overly magnified fears that relate to the welfare of loved ones. Rock Rose: For terror, panic, or fright that makes conscious thought next to impossible. For Uncertainty Cerato: For doubting one’s ability to make decisions. Gentian: For those times when even small delays cause hesitation, despondency, and self-doubt. Gorse: For feelings of despair, hopelessness, and futility. Hornbeam: For procrastination and tiredness at the thought of doing something. Scleranthus: For the inability to choose between alternatives. Wild Oat: For uncertainty over one’s direction in life. For Insufficient Interest in Present Circumstances Chestnut Bud: For failure to learn from the lessons of present life. Clematis: For dreaming of the future without being anchored in the present Honeysuckle: For nostalgia, homesickness, and dwelling too much in the past. Olive: For mental and physical exhaustion and sapped vitality. Mustard: For sudden deep gloom that arises for no apparent reason. White Chestnut: For unwanted thoughts and mental arguments that interfere with concentration and the ability to do things Wild Rose: For apathy or making little effort to find joy. For Loneliness Water Violet: For preferring to be alone, and for being aloof or reserved. Heather: For the self-absorbed who burden others with their troubles and dislike being alone. Impatiens: For impatience and feeling irritated by others who are slower.
For Oversensitivity to Influences and Ideas Agrimony: For helping to convey real feelings and worries and to cope with arguments, quarrels, and confrontations. Often those who need agrimony feel the need to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Centaury: For difficulty saying no and neglecting one’s own interests. Holly: For envy, suspicion, revenge, and hatred. Walnut: For stabilizing emotions during life transitions, such as adolescence and menopause; for breaking past links; and for adjusting to new beginnings. For Despondency and Despair Crab Apple: For self-hatred. Elm: For being overextended; for feeling overwhelmed with one’s responsibilities. Pine: For feeling self-reproach, guilt, and dissatisfaction with one’s self. Willow: For feeling life has treated one unfairly; for feeling resentful and unappreciated. Larch: For self-doubt and despair over one’s perceived inability to succeed. Oak: For despondency when exhaustion or illness gets in the way of duty (the remedy for normally strong people who typically never give up under adversity). Star of Bethlehem: For emptiness and loss that occurs when a loved one dies or moves away; for the after-effects of any shock. Sweet Chestnut: For when everything has been tried and you’re at the end of your rope. For Overconcern for Others Beech: For desiring perfection and easily finding fault with others. Chicory: For being possessive of others, demanding, and self-pitying, for needing others to conform to one’s ideals. Rock Water: For taking self-denial to extremes. Vervain: For restraint and relaxation in the well-meaning and overly enthusiastic. Vine: For containing the autocratic, dictatorial, and ruthless. Rescue Remedy, which comes in liquid and cream form, is recommended for a wide variety of situations, but particularly for times when you feel stressed or anxious.
While there are no scientific studies to support any health claims for Bach flower remedies, there is evidence that emotional states can influence people’s overall well-being. Anecdotal evidence abounds concerning the remedies’ ability to relieve stress and anxiety. Indeed, many practitioners recommend Bach flower remedies for stress-related ailments such as depression, headache, insomnia, PMS (premenstrual syndrome), and chronic pain.
How To Choose a Practitioner
There is no formal licensing program for Bach flower practitioners, although the Dr. Edward Bach Centre and Foundation in England certifies practitioners who use the original remedies developed by Dr. Bach. Practitioners certified by the Bach Centre must also sign a Code of Practice that specifies that they are not licensed to diagnose illness or otherwise practice medicine.
In the United States, herbalists, aromatherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and homeopaths often use flower remedies as part of their treatments. The best recommendation may be word of mouth from a friend.
Flower remedies are generally quite safe for people of all ages, but are not a substitute for medical care. Do not stop taking prescription drugs or discontinue any regular medical treatment while you are using flower essences, unless your doctor tells you to do so.
Because the remedies are diluted in a minute amount of alcohol, they are best avoided by anyone who should not drink alcohol, including recovering alcoholics and pregnant women.