What are Flower Essences?
by Sara Light-Waller
Flower essences are subtle liquid extracts, generally taken in oral form, which are used to address profound issues of emotional well-being, soul development, and mind-body health. While the use of flowers for healing has many ancient antecedents, the precise application of flower essences for specific emotions and attitudes was first developed by an English physician, Dr. Edward Bach, in the 1930’s. Today, flower essences are gaining world-wide professional recognition for their significant contribution to holistic health and wellness programs. Flower essences are generally prepared from a sun infusion of either wildflowers or pristine garden blossoms in a bowl of water, which is further diluted and potentized, and preserved with brandy. Quality preparation requires careful attention to the purity of the environment, the vibrancy and potency of the blossoms, celestial and meteorological conditions, and sensitive study of the physical and energetic properties of the plant through its cycles of growth.
Although flower essences resemble other health remedies which come in dropper bottles, they do not work because of the chemical composition of the liquid, but because of the life forces derived from the plant and contained within the water-based matrix. Like homeopathic remedies, flower essences are vibrational in nature. They are highly dilute from a physical point of view, but have subtle power as potentized substances, embodying the specific energetic patterns of each flower. Their impact does not derive from any direct bio-chemical interaction within the physiology of the body. Rather, flower essences work through the various human energy fields, which in turn influence mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
The action of flower essences can be compared to the effects we experience from hearing a particularly moving piece of music, or seeing an inspirational work of art. The light or sound waves which reach our senses may evoke profound feelings in our soul, which indirectly affect our breathing, pulse rate, and other physical states. These patterns do not impact us by direct physical or chemical intervention in our bodies. Rather, it is the contour and arrangement of the light or sound which awakens an experience within our own soul similar to that which arose within the soul of the creator of the musical or art form. This is the phenomenon of resonance, as when a guitar string sounds when a matching note is sung. In a similar way, the specific structure and shape of the life forces conveyed by each flower essence resonate with, and awaken, particular qualities within the human soul.
The full etheric
“message” of the plant essence remain in the few highly dilute drops
we take into our bodies. Working with flower essences requires a stretch in our
thinking beyond that is beyond the matrialistic assumption that “more is
better.” Flower essences, like other vibration remedies, illustrate the
principle that “small is beautiful.” They are part of a emerging field
of non-invasive, life-enhancing subtle therapies, which promise to make a major
contribution to health care in coming years.
The Contribution of Dr. Edward Bach
It is in this historical context of mind-body medicine that we can appreciate the genius of Dr. Edward Bach, the founder of flower essence therapy, and understand why his work speaks so powerfully to our own time.
Dr. Bach was a pioneer in understanding the relationship of emotions to the health of the body and psyche. He understood that to create health, the emotional and spiritual aspects of our being must be addressed. Ill health results when we lack an awareness of our soul-spiritual identity, and when we are alienated from others or disconnected from our purpose in life. As Bach explained in his landmark Treatise Heal Thyself, disease is a message to change, an opportunity to become are of our shortcomings and to learn the lessons of life experience so that we may better fulfill our true destiny.
Bach received conventional medical training in London, and practiced for many years as a bacteriologist. His approach, however, was quite unconventional, in that he based his treatment more on the emotions and attitudes of his patients than on a purely physical diagnosis. He later changed his practice to homeopathic medicine, appreciating its whole-person approach to health, and the application of remedies which energized the body’s own healing powers. In fact, a series of intestinal nosodes developed by Bach are still used by homeopaths today.
In 1930 Dr. Bach left his homeopathic practice in London to go into the countryside to develop a new system of natural remedies, made from wildflowers. Through his sensitive observation of Nature and of human suffering, he was able to correlate each plant remedy with specific human states of mind.
Before his death in 1936 at the age of 50, Bach developed a range of flower essences which demonstrated a remarkable insight into human nature. At a time when the world was preoccupied with physical suffering, political upheaval, eco- nomic devastation, and the rise of Nazism and Fascism, Bach perceived the inner darkness of the human soul. He recognized the significance of destructive emotions such as depression, hatred, and fear. Along with other pioneers of psychosomatic medicine, he realized the devastating toll which unbalanced emotions and attitudes have on the human body. Bach went further, however, in that he knew that true health is based on a connection of one’s life and destiny with a larger purpose. Moreover, he understood that substances could be found within Nature herself, which are capable of bringing profound change to the human soul and body.
The Holistic View of the Human Being
Life energy and health If we recognize the human being as more than a machine to be repaired when it is broken, or a complex bio-computer in need of re-programming; can we develop an expanded view of human nature, a more “holistic” perspective? The first step is to recognize the human being as a system of energetic forces, as well as physical structures and biochemical activity. The ancient Oriental concepts of chi and prana, or that of vital force in Western tradition, describe a life energy which animates physical matter within living beings. A deficiency or disturbance in these life energies can lead to stress in the physical body, thus lowering resistance to disease.
The Unique Role of Flower Essence Therapy in Health Care
Flower essences are not drugs
Because flower essences are something we take into our bodies, it is easy to confuse the essences with drugs which are used to treat physical and emotional illness. Flower essences are not drugs. First of all, because of their vibrational nature, flower essences have no direct impact upon the body’s biochemistry, as do pharmaceutical and psychoactive drugs. Tranquilizers, anti-depressants, pain-killers, mood-brighteners, and “mind-expanding” drugs affect emotional states, but they do this by changing brain chemistry, thus altering the biological vehicle through which the human soul expresses itself.
Such biochemical manipulation may be important in cases of severe illness, such as extreme suicidal tendencies. Yet, apart from the danger of side effects, we must ask profound questions about the use of mood-altering drugs to control or eliminate such typical human emotions as depression, fear, anxiety, and shyness. What is the effect on the soul of chemically-induced personality makeovers? Is something lost when the soul no longer needs to grapple with the pain of childhood abuse, or anger at the injustices of the world? Can the soul learn life’s lessons if it no longer has the freedom to experience pain and transformation? Would society have fared better if its great poets had treated their introversion with mood enhancers, or if its social critics had cured their alienation with anti-depressants?
Flower essences, by contrast, leave the soul in freedom. They encourage rather than compel change, working by vibrational resonance rather than bio-chemical intervention. Their effect is evocative, much like the impact of a conversation with a wise and caring friend. The essences stimulate an inner dialogue with hidden aspects of the Self, awakening profound psychological archetypes, and giving us access to their message. As a result of such “speaking” to our soul, deep emotional and mental changes take place, which may then produce physiological alterations as well. But these changes are not imposed from without; they occur from within ourselves, through our own experience and effort.
Flower essences are catalysts which stimulate and energize the inner transformative process, while leaving us free to develop our own innate capacities. They are used best within a context of inner development, through self-observation, dialogue, and counseling. For this reason, they are not used to treat particular diseases. Rather, flower essences help us to learn the lessons of any ailment, to meet the challenges presented to our souls by emotional and physical pain and suffering, and thus to transform our lives. Such a health-enhancing metamorphosis may naturally eliminate many painful physical symptoms, but the ultimate goal remains in the evolution of the soul.UNlike pain-killing or symptom supressing drugs, which can create long term dependence when used to control chronic conditions, flower essences stimulate lasting changes in consciousness, which continue to be a part of our live after we stop taking the essences.
Flower essences are not Conventional herbal remedies
Flower essences have much in common with herbal remedies. They share heritage of using pure ingredients directly from Nature, and a philosophy of workin with, rather than suppressing, the healing process. In fact, after Dr. Bach left his homeopathic practice and discovered flower essences, he referred to himself as a herbalist, and characterized the essences as herbal remedies.
However, flower essences are a very specialized form of herbal preparation which should be distinguished from conventional herbal remedies. Herbal produc are made from many parts of the plant, including the root, stem, leaves, fruit, see as well as the blossom; they are made by a variety of methods, including infusion, decoction, and tincture.
Flower essences differ in their preparation method in that they are generally ade by infusion, and only with the fresh blossoms of the plant within a very pecific environmental matrix. In describing flower essence preparation, Dr. Bach commented, “Let it be noted in this that the four elements are involved: the earth o nurture the plant; the air from which it feeds; the sun or fire to enable it to mpart its power; and water . . . to be enriched with its beneficent magnetic healing.” We would also add that there is the fifth alchemical element, the quintessential element, which is the sensitive consciousness of the flower essence preparer. Thus, flower essences are more than simple herbal extracts; they are alchemical uintessences which carry the living archetypes of the whole plant, captured at its ighest moment of unfolding into blossom.
Herbal remedies are generally selected on the basis of physical symptoms, and re used for their naturally occurring physical constituents. Flower essences, by contrast, are vibrational in nature, and are selected for their impact on soul qualities. Still, within the herbal and shamanic traditions of many cultures there is the knowldge that plants have deeper meanings, and are associated with spiritual forces and rocesses. This legacy of a more subtle herbalism can be viewed as one of the ources for understanding flower essence qualities.
Herbal properties of plants bear a relationship to their uses as flower essences, ut are not identical. Often the flower essence’s impact on the soul is like a “higher octave” of the physical effects of the plant, although this must be consid- red in the context of a complete study of the plant, as discussed starting on page 3. For example, Dill is used as a culinary herb to stimulate digestion and counter- ct flatulence caused by eating too much or too quickly. As a flower essence, Dill dresses “psychic indigestion,” when the soul is overwhelmed by too many or too rapid sense impressions; it works to refine and clarify our experience of the sense orld. Many modern herbalists use flower essences along with traditional herbal medicaments. However, they report that the essences address issues of the psyche far more directly and precisely than do conventional herbal remedies.
Flower essences differ from fragrances and essential oils
Flower essences should not be confused with fragrances, nor with pure essential oils used for aromatherapy, although the term “flower essences” is sometimes mis- takenly applied to these oils. Flower essences have no particular smell, except for the brandy which is used as a natural preservative. This is because the physical substance of the blossom contained in the essence is highly attenuated, so that its vibrational qualities can be accentuated.
Fragrances are generally synthetic preparations prepared for their scent, and used in perfumery. Pure essential oils are highly concentrated natural distillations of the aromatic oils of plant substances, and are thus a specialized type of herbal remedy. Essential oils can have strong impacts on both body and soul, but their pathway is through the senses and physical body, rather than the vibrational fields of the flower essences. Aromatherapy and flower essences work well in tandem, but they should not be confused. They are complementary therapies – body to soul, and soul to body.
How flower essences and homeopathic remedies compare
Flower essences also differ from homeopathic remedies, although these modalities have much in common historically, philosophically, and in practice. Both types of remedies are vibrational in nature, and thus physically dilute. They each act as catalysts for the person’s own healing process, rather than suppressing or controlling symptoms. Both modalities address the person rather than the disease, and endeavor to match the remedy to the unique individual situation. Dr. Bach practiced as a homeopathic physician before developing his flower essences, and today homeopaths are among those who most readily recognize the efficacy of flower essence therapy.
Yet there are significant differences between flower essences and homeopathic remedies. Bach clearly described his development of flower essences as a break with homeopathy, for he contended that the essences do not follow the Law of Similars, which is the very definition of homeopathic medicine.
According to this principle of similars, homeopathic remedies are developed by provings, in which large doses of a substance are given to a group of healthy individuals, and the symptoms they develop become the indications for the condition the remedy addresses. If Bach had used this homeopathic method, he would have given a test group of people large doses of Holly, and found that they became envious, jealous, or hateful, or found that Clematis in large doses produced a dreamy, unfocused state in his test group.
It is a historical fact that Bach never used provings in developing his flower remedies, nor have homeopathic provings been used to test other flower essences. Instead, Bach found that Holly flower essence brought a sense of connection and love to the soul troubled by jealousy, envy, or hatred, and that Clematis essence enhanced the quality of presence for dreamy, disembodied persons.
If flower essesces do not follow the Law of Similars of homeopathy, can we say instead that they are an expression of The Law of Contraries, which is the basis of symptom-suppressing alleopathic medidne? Bach apparentily believed that flower remedies work by contraries within the soul, saying that they “flood our nature with the particular virtue we need, and wash out from us the fault that is causing the harm.” However, our own research over the past sixteen years indicates th this is an over-simplification. Rather than working by similars or contraries, the transformative action of flower essences is an expression of the integration of polarities within our psyche, as understood in alchemy and by Jungian psychology.
For example, Mimulus flower essence addresses the fears of everyday life; it does ot create fear when given in large doses to an otherwise healthy person without hese fears, as would be expected if it followed the homeopathic Law of Similars. or does Mimulus essence obliterate fear, as would a tranquilizer drug operating by he Law of Contraries. A person taking Mimulus flower essence may become ore acutely conscious of an existing state of fear, perhaps previously hidden from reness. At the same time, Mimulus encourages the person to face these fears, ousing the requisite soul strength to meet such challenges. Therefore, we can say hat the Mimulus works with the polarity of fear and courage, enabling the soul to ach a higher level of integration. Rather than eliminating fear, Mimulus helps us o have the courage to face fear. Understood in this way, flower essence therapy pplies the alchemical law of the Union of Opposites, by which polar opposites are ntegrated into a higher synthesis.
Flower essences and homeopathic remedies are also prepared differently. While homeopathic remedies have been made from nearly any substance, and from any art of the plant, flower essences are made exclusively from the blossom. For this reason, flower essences should be also distinguished from various vibrational remedies made from other parts of plants, or from animal or mineral substances, such as sea essences and gem elixirs. It is specifically the flower that is used for flower essences, because it is in the process of blossoming that the soul qualities of Nature come into the form and substance of the plant. Thus, the flower essence becomes vehicle of communication between the soul of Nature and the human soul.
Even when homeopathic remedies are made from flowers, they are prepared ifferently than flower essences. The homeopathic mother substance is a tincture r alcohol extraction of the mascerated plant, which is then diluted and potentized, ften many times, to produce a remedy. Flower essences begin with an infusion in ater of the whole blossom of the plant, in which the preparer works very con- ciously with the surrounding meteorological and environmental conditions. For this eason, flower essences are made in the “laboratory of Nature,” in the natural wildflower habitat or in a garden where the flowers can flourish under ideal conditions.
Flower essences are used only in the first or second dilution, yet directly affect the mind and emotions. They impact the psyche in a gentle way which generally aves the consciousness free to choose how to respond to their influence. Homeopathic remedies usually need to be raised to a much higher potency to affect mental and emotional states. Many practitioners believe that such potencies act upon the psyche in a more compelling manner than do flower essences. In this way, high-potency homeopathic remedies have some similarities to pharmaceutical drugs, and must be used with great caution by very skilled practitioners. Low-potency homeopathic remedies, by contrast, work more directly with the physical-etheric aspect of the human being, and are thus more similar to herbal remedies.
Flower essences combine the safety of low-potency homeopathic remedies with the consciousness-stimulating ability of higher potency remedies. They accomplish this by creating a dialogue with the soul, rather than dictating to it. Flower essences also differ from homeopathic remedies in the manner in which they are used. A homeopathic case involves an extensive cataloguing of symptoms, usually with a strong emphasis on physical conditions and habits, which give a picture of the etheric or life body of the person. The practitioner then seeks to find the best fit between the list of symptoms presented by the patient and the list of indications for the remedy.
By contrast, flower essence therapy correlates an “archetype” or “message” of a plant with a particular quality within the human soul or psyche. While physical and other symptoms provide clues regarding inner issues, choosing a flower essence is more than matching a list of symptoms and indications. Rather, the emphasis is on identifying underlying life issues and lessons, as a way of painting a “soul portrait” of the individual. This picture is then correlated with one or more flower essences whose vibrational configurations embody these qualities and processes.
It is thus clear that flower essences are not homeopathic remedies, although both belong to the larger category of energy or vibrational remedies. There may be confusion on this point because some brands of flower essences are labeled as homeopathic drugs for regulatory or import purposes. Such labeling is unfortunate and inaccurate, but it in no way invalidates the philosophical and practical differences between these two modalities.