Winter can be a gloomy time. Stressful holidays. Cabin fever. Seasonal depression. For cold dark days, when you’re still reeling from the drama of extended family gatherings, reach for flowers.
Flower essences are a unique modality of plant medicine designed to address emotional imbalance and distress. Individual flower extracts are used separately or combined to ease feelings such as obsessiveness, jealousy, and loneliness.
Finding the appropriate remedy for your particular mood requires some introspection.
“We’re not concerned about what happened in your childhood unless that’s currently bothering you,” said Dr. Carol Bennington, flower essence educator with the Bach International Education Program. “We’re looking at what now is emotionally out of balance, and then you find the corresponding flowers. Sometimes it’s a little bit of detective work.”
The winter blues manifests differently for everybody. If you’re depressed, Bennington wants to know the reason. For gloominess that appears out of nowhere, try mustard flower. Does life seem unfair? Go for willow. No motivation? Choose hornbeam. Overwhelmed? Try elm.
If the idea of treating feelings with flowers sounds hokey, you’re not alone. Bennington says that when people first hear about it, they’re quick to dismiss it.
“I was pretty skeptical to begin with, but I gave it a try and had a really profound experience,” she said.
Dr. Bach’s Discovery
Not to be confused with essential oils, flower essences are a relative new comer to herbal medicine. The modality was invented by homeopath and bacteriologist Dr. Edward Bach who was so taken with his discovery that he left his busy London practice in 1930 to devote the rest of his life to developing a complete and easy to use system.
The Bach remedies consist of 38 individual flowers, and are designed to address the full spectrum of emotional upset. But the number of flower essences has grown enormous over time—Bennington estimates several thousand. Think of any flower. Someone has probably made a remedy from it.
Purists adhere strictly to Bach’s original 38, but with such a large number of remedies now available, it’s tempting to explore the vast variety. Keep in mind that effective treatment results from making a good match, so it’s best to learn the basic theory of the Bach system before branching out into newer remedies.
To help find appropriate flowers, Bennington consults with clients over the phone or in her Ann Arbor, Michigan office, but is just as encouraging for people to use the remedies at home.
“It’s a self-help system so you don’t really need a practitioner,” she said. “Where I find practitioners particularly helpful is that it’s much easier to see what somebody else needs than what you need, and sometimes it’s just easier to have somebody who is more experienced and trained to listen help select the flowers.”
Basic indications are printed on each bottle. For those interested in a deeper understanding, Bennington recommends “The Twelve Healers” which gives Dr. Bach’s description of each remedy. All 38 flowers are included in this book, but the original version was written when Bach’s first twelve were discovered.
Flowers According to Science
How do they work? Don’t expect euphoria, or for all pain and suffering to instantly vanish.
According the website of the Flower Essence Society, an international organization devoted to the therapy, flower remedies stimulate “awareness of our conflicts and challenges, and they strengthen our ability to work through the obstacles to our health and growth.”
Critics point to studies which show that flowers work no better than placebos, but Bennington says that researchers often fail to use the remedies appropriately.
“You can’t really justify the results if you’re not using it the way it’s intended,” she said.
The challenge with designing a proper evaluation is that it’s very difficult to find enough people who have the exact same emotional imbalance at the same time.
One strategy has been to use a well-known flower formula to target a specific issue. A 2007 study led by Dr. Robert Halbertosein examined the popular combination of flowers known as Rescue Remedy. This five flower formula was developed by Dr. Bach to treat acute shock and trauma.
Though the sample size was small (111 individuals aged 18 to 49), the double bind study compared a standard dose of flower essences against a placebo and found that “Rescue Remedy may be effective in reducing high levels of situational anxiety.”
Flowers in the Clinic
In Tucson, Arizona, psychiatric nurse practitioner Helen Hess uses a variety of methods to address mental problems, from conventional pharmaceuticals to hypnotherapy.
Hess says that flower remedies play an important role in her practice because they can address issues the drugs can’t.
“I’ve been able to minimize the medication people take because the flowers deal with the underlying attitudes that are going on,” she said
According to Hess, pharmaceuticals can address brain chemistry, but not something like guilt. “If someone comes in and they’re feeling really guilty about something I’ll give them pine,” she said. “The medications don’t address jealousy, so I use holly.”
To make a treatment bottle, Hess mixes two drops of the selected remedies into one ounce of water, with instructions to take four drops four times a day. The medicine stays good for three weeks, or longer with a teaspoon of brandy added as a preservative. A follow up evaluation will likely result in a completely different selection of remedies.
“The flower remedies work like the layers of an onion,” Hess said. “They take care of the surface emotions, and then another set of emotions are uncovered and that’s a different flower mix.”
Flower essences have no side effects, no contraindications, and will not conflict with pharmaceuticals. They are safe for children, pregnant women, even pets. If you make a poor match, the worst that can happen is nothing.
The gentle nature of the remedies allows Hess to prescribe flowers with confidence, even in extreme cases.
“I find flower remedies to be extremely helpful for people with PTSD. It helps with the flashbacks and intrusive memories,” she said. “It’s really wonderful to be able to take care of those intrusive memories. It’s hard to get at that with medications, though we throw drugs at people for it all the time.”