By Barry Kapke, A.C.S.T.
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2003.
The harmonizing and healing properties of flowers have been acknowledged and utilized throughout history. The ancient Egyptians as well as the Australian Aboriginals made use of flowers to heal the emotions. In the 16th century, Paracelsus described collecting dew from flowering plants, diluting it and using this essence to treat various disorders. Now, in the West, flower remedies have been used with great success for more than 65 years thanks to Dr. Edward Bach’s rediscovery and formulation of them.
Prior to the pharmaceutical revolution that followed World War II, plant-based remedies were the predominant form of medical therapy. Herbal medicines make use of fresh or dried plants — leaves, roots, stems, flowers and sometimes the fruit — in medicinal preparations. Herbal tinctures are extracted oils and other substances from various parts of a plant through the use of heat or alcohol. Homeopathic remedies are created by diluting and potentizing a healing-plant tincture. Essential oils, such as those used in aromatherapy, are extracted from large quantities of flowers to derive their concentrated aromatic essence. Flower essences, on the other hand, are energetic infusions that contain no physical or molecular presence of the flower.
Flower essences may be thought of as the vibrational imprint of the vital life force pattern of a flower, transferred and stabilized in water. Flower essences are typically made by picking fresh flowers, still wet with morning dew, and allowing them to sit in a bowl of spring water in bright sunlight for several hours. As a preservative, brandy is added in a 1:1 ratio to the water. This solar infusion is the “mother tincture” from which individual preparations may be made.
Cynthia Athina Kemp Scherer, the developer of Desert Alchemy Flower Essences, likens the actions of flower essences to a tuning fork. When you strike a tuning fork, it emits a sound that travels in waves. If your tuning fork is in the key of C and you strike and hold it near a harp, the sound waves travel to the strings and begin to resonate with any strings tuned to the key of C. This is a physical phenomena called sympathetic resonance. As we use a flower essence, we begin to resonate in harmony with the qualities of the flower, and our own limitations and disharmonies begin to change.
The effect of the remedies is to transform negative mind states and behaviors into positive ones. It helps to bring balance. Flower essences do not create imbalance; that is, taking a remedy to balance timidity with more assertiveness will never cause one to become a pushy, domineering person. The healing power of flower essences is to encourage balance.
Bach Flower Essences
Dr. Edward Bach was a well-known British bacteriologist, pathologist and homeopath. In addition to his scientific training, he also had an intuitive sensitivity. One morning while strolling through the English countryside, he stopped in front of a particular flower and felt himself suddenly overwhelmed by strong emotions. Intuitively, he touched some of the dew from the flower petals to his lips and immediately felt the strong emotions subside. His sensitivity to the balancing qualities of different flowers led him to formulate remedies for key emotional-energetic patterns that he believed were responsible for many illnesses and imbalances. These 38 remedies, still known as the Bach Flower Remedies, have been used since the 1930s.
Bach noticed that different people responded to the same disease in completely different ways — one person might take it in stride and see it as an opportunity while another might become totally despondent. He believed that the two patients should receive different treatments — not based on the disease so much as on their emotional states. He felt, quite radically for his time, that emotions had a significant role in most diseases and that rebalancing and reintegrating emotions would more than likely improve physical disorders.
Disease is the body’s way, Bach thought, to let us know, often with increasing emphasis, we are doing something that opposes our personality and our life’s unfolding. This conflict is the root cause of disease. In Heal Thyself, he suggested that the medicine of the future will not concern itself unduly with disease “but knowing the true cause of sickness and, being aware that the obvious physical results are merely secondary, it will concentrate its efforts upon bringing about that harmony between body, mind and soul which results in the relief and cure of disease. And in such cases as are undertaken early enough the correction of the mind will avert the imminent illness.”
Bach was much more concerned with treating the person than with treating the disease. He discovered that he could successfully resolve the deeper causes of physical diseases by selecting flower remedies according to the personality and emotional states of the individual. He also learned that well-balanced people got better physically because their bodies were quite literally free to heal themselves. In the short period between the discovery of his first flower remedy in 1928 and the time of his death in 1936, Bach formulated the 38 remedies he believed could treat every possible emotional state. While each remedy is related to one emotion or personality quality, more than 292 million mental states may be addressed through the permutational combinations of these 38 basic remedies.
When prescribing flower remedies, Bach would look at the patient’s emotional outlook on life. “The mind,” Bach wrote, “being the most delicate and sensitive part of the body, shows the onset and the course of disease much more definitely than the body, so that the outlook of mind is chosen as the guide as to which remedy or remedies are necessary.” Looking and listening are the practitioner’s assessment tools. Is the patient critical of others (Beech)? Does he or she have low self-esteem (Larch)? Does she speak with conviction (Vervain) or with authority (Vine)? Is she fearful (Mimulus)? Does he feel guilty (Pine)? Choosing the correct flower essence or combination of essences facilitates the energetic pattern of the flower remedy to retune our own vibratory pattern to greater harmony. (see sidebar a comprehensive list of Bach Flower Remedies.)
The final Bach Flower Remedy, and the one that is perhaps the most popular, is a combination known as Rescue Remedy (or the Five Flower Remedy). It is a blend of Cherry Plum, Clematis, Impatiens, Rock Rose and Star of Bethlehem, and can be used in any sudden difficulty or crisis. Bach found this particular combination to be universally helpful to calm and rebalance individuals (or animals) who have just experienced a sudden shock, physical trauma or accident, anxiety and panic attacks, or some emotionally stressful situation. It has immediately perceivable results, usually noticed within 15 to 20 minutes.
While Bach Flower Essences are probably the most well-known and commonly used set of flower remedies, there is an ever-growing repertory drawing upon the vast regional diversity of flowering life energy around the world. The Bach Essences derived from the flowers of rural England in the early 1900s, a landscape that has changed significantly.
The Flower Essence Society (FES) remedies, developed by Richard Katz and Patricia Kaminski, are derived largely from flowers native to California and North America. The Flower Essence Society was founded in 1979 to promote plant research and empirical clinical research on the therapeutic effects of flower essences. The society conducts seminars and certification programs and provides a communication and referral network for those teaching, researching or practicing in the field of flower essence therapy.
Additional flower essence sets are available from the Alaskan wilderness to the Arizona desert, from the Australian Bush to the rain forests of Africa and the Amazon, and from the magical gardens of Findhorn to the old growth forests of Europe and North America.
Working With Flower Essences
Flower essence practitioner and researcher Cynthia Athina Kemp Scherer recommends a five-step process for working with flower essences that can be quite helpful.
The first step is to assemble and invoke a “healing support team.” Asking for such assistance provides the foundation for healing. This team may include your own Higher Self; anyone, alive or dead, who may provide inspiration or support to you; angels, bodhisattvas, devas and nature spirits; as well as any qualities you may wish to invoke. Having assembled your special team of helpers, you may seek help at any time.
The second, and crucially important, step is to clarify your intention. Flower essences do not require belief in order to work; they can be seen to have demonstrative effect with children, animals and even plants. However, flower essences work to bring about changes in feeling and consciousness, so starting from a place of clarity is always a wise beginning. What is it you want to address? What kind of help are you seeking? What is your desired result? Identify your needs, then find the harmonizing quality that will bring about the wanted resolution. Write down your intention.
The third step is to select the essences that will support you. Bach insisted that inquiry is the best method for choosing the appropriate remedy, since self-empowerment and awareness are integral aspects of flower essence therapy. Having decided which mental and emotional issues are most important for your health and growth, you can select from the essence or essences that correspond with these issues. Dowsing with a pendulum or using muscle testing are also effective ways of finding the appropriate remedy. Bach discouraged the use of these methods because they go right to the solution without attention to the step of self-inquiry. Personally, I use all three methods with good results.
The fourth step is to use the remedy selected. There are many ways of using flower essences. The most common way is to take them orally, either sipping them slowly in a glass of spring water or holding the undiluted drops under the tongue. Five to seven drops can be put in a plant sprayer bottle and used to mist the room or the face and body. They can be added to a bath. They can be applied topically to the skin through massage or body lotions or compresses, or they may be used to anoint the pulse points of the body or directly upon acupuncture points (floral acupuncture).
Flower essences are generally sold in stock solutions, in individual flower essences and in innumerable combination remedies. Essences should be stored in a cool place, away from direct sunlight or strong lights. You may use the essence directly from the stock bottle or you may dilute it, adding four drops of the essence to a 1 oz (30 ml) bottle containing 75 percent spring water (not distilled water) and 25 percent brandy. If you are sensitive to alcohol, you can substitute apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin.
When taking the essence directly from the dropper bottle, allow four drops to fall under your tongue. Take care to not let the dropper touch your mouth and contaminate the stock solution; flower essences are very high in life-force energy and can easily stimulate bacterial growth. Typically, drops can be taken two to four times a day. Another common method is to add four drops of an essence to a glass of spring water and sip it throughout the day. Diluted preparations are just as effective as the undiluted stock tincture.
Several flower essences can be taken together, mixed in a dosage bottle or glass of water. In making a combination, it is important to consider how the essences work together, as well as the appropriateness of each essence in the combination. It is best to limit the number of essences taken at any one time to three to five unless you are working with a skilled practitioner. I have found it useful to invoke my healing support team and to recall my intention statement each time I take the remedy.
A 1-oz. (30 ml) dosage bottle used at the rate of four drops, four times daily, will typically last about one month. One month is also a typical cycle for emotional change, and it is recommended you use an essence for at least this period of time to fully experience its benefits. Remedies often have a subtle beginning. However, a month is only a general suggestion; many people use flower essences for longer or shorter periods of time than this, with good results. An essence or combination should be discontinued as soon as you feel you have completely absorbed or consciously recognized the intended benefits.
The fifth step is to evaluate the effects. Maintaining a journal, or some set of notes, is a valuable way to both document the experience and effectiveness of the essence, and to deepen our emotional awareness and our understanding of ourselves.
What To Expect
Flower essences are not magical solutions to life’s difficulties. Flower essences can help you recognize, resolve or release conditioned ways of perceiving the world, and can also help you experience greater well-being and harmony in your life. By creating harmony within ourselves we often notice distinct changes in ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually — sometimes subtle, sometimes quite profound. The more attuned we are to our own emotional awareness and inner life, the easier it is to recognize the effects of flower essences.
Because flower essences stimulate awareness, they sometimes will make us painfully aware of our challenges and conflicts. In so doing, they also strengthen our abilities to work through obstacles towards greater wellness and fulfillment. This is a natural part of the movement toward health and balance.
Flower essences can quite effectively be used on their own or in conjunction with other therapies. They do not interfere with, nor are they adversely affected by, other forms of treatment such as homeopathic remedies or prescription drugs. It is impossible to overdose on them or become addicted or build up tolerance. They have no side effects and may be safely used by people of all ages. Massage therapists, naturopathic doctors, psychologists, medical doctors, veterinarians and other health care practitioners have found flower essences to be complementary to their work and their clients’ well-being. The essences can be an extremely effective tool to enhance awareness, facilitate healing and create harmony.