Flower Essences

I wrote the following article in grad school, many moons ago. At the time I also included case studies in the (successful) use of flower essences for treating emotional struggles, including tobacco addiction. Since then, not only has my intuition and trust in flower essences grown...but paradoxically, so has my skepticism. I mean, COME ON, says my scientifically grounded self, Energetic imprints in water, "preserved" with brandy? You aren't actually going to stand by that are you? 

Well no, actually. I no longer can claim to understand why flower essences work. The most solid evidence I could hand you would be recent research about the efficacy of placebos, even when no deception is involved. But what about Dr. Emoto's work? the non-skeptic asks. The messages in water and the pretty crystals? Unfortunately, Mr. Emoto cherry picked his results and his study methods were swiss cheesy. So water does freeze into pretty snowflakes...but it does so regardless of whether or not you send it good vibes or call it bad names.

Yet, this is coming from the person who's been telling you that you can communicate with plants and that psychological healing can be catalyzed by flowers. I'm admitting right off the bat here that I can't prove it. All the explanations and even the "studies" done by the Flower Essence Society are super floppy. But like you'll read in my "how-to" on flower essences, I advocate sitting with the actual plant itself, with essences as a far 2nd preference. And if you do make and take essences (which I do) the good thing to note is that flower essences are "energetic" and do not contain any physical substances aside from water and alcohol. Unless you have sensitivity to alcohol or addiction issues, taking essences can't hurt you.

But they might help.

Flower Essences: A brief description and explanation

In the 1930s, a physician and bacteriologist in England named Edward Bach was noticing that emotional states in his patients were often a precursor to illness, and could either hinder, or aid, the healing process. Ahead of his time in the field of mind-body medicine, Bach looked to the natural world for a possible gentle remedy, as opposed to the invasive toxic and/or mechanical techniques of the day. He had already been investigating the creation of floral tinctures. As the story goes,

“One day during a morning stroll through the English countryside, Dr. Bach happened upon what eventually came to be known as the Bach Flowers.  As he stopped in front of a particular flower, he suddenly became overwhelmed with strong emotions that seemed to come from outside himself.  Based on an intuitive hunch, Bach spread some of the morning dew that had collected upon the flower directly on his lips. As the dewdrops from the flowers touched his mouth, the strong emotion quickly vanished, returning him to his previous state of calm.

So it is said, Bach could sense from different flowers the kind of emotional disturbances which each specimen was capable of neutralizing and rebalancing, and believed that by ingesting a small amount of a flower’s sun-drenched dewdrops, that flower’s healing and rebalancing properties could easily be transmitted to an individual.  Bach set out to discover which flowers had the ability to rebalance those key emotional-energy patterns he believed were behind many people’s illnesses.  In all, Bach found thirty-eight flowers before his death in 1936 whose liquid tinctures came to be known as the Bach Flower Remedies. “ (http://altmed.creighton.edu/floweressences/history.htm)


Bach essences, are made primarily from flowers found in the English countryside. While Bach remains some of the most commonly used systems, there are currently many other sets of essences, made from flowers in North America, Australia, South Africa, and frequently in combination with gem essences, animal essences and even ones related to planetary energies for work with astrology. The usual manner in which essences are made is by placing flowers picked at sunrise in a bowl or jar of spring water and put to rest in the sun for a few hours or the duration of the day. The same method can be done with full moon light. Less commonly, the flowers are boiled. The sun imparts the imprint of the soul, or vibration, of the flower into the water, which retains the vibration. The liquid is distilled and preserved with alcohol in a 1:1 ratio. (Glycerin formulas are available for those with addiction/abuse issues.) There is no specific physical matter from the flowers contained in the essence. If one sent it to a lab, any amount of material would be deemed insufficient to have any kind of effect.  The essences are not like herbal tinctures, created to stimulate the physical body, the immune system or as support for organ function. Flower essences are more akin to homeopathic medicine where the dosage of the actual substance is sometimes in a ratio of 1:100. However, flower essences are not homeopathic in definition. Homeopathy infuses the water that is used to make the medicine by initially creating a tincture with a physical substance, which is then diluted several times so that the medicine contains very little of the original matter. Flower essences are considered to be vibrational medicine, working on the emotional body, rather than the physical. The vibration, or soul imprint of the flower is infused into the water, but the water does not absorb the physical components of the plant.

Although it is empirically impossible to prove that the essences contain vibration, starting with Dr. Bach methodical research has been done by practitioners, who recorded their observations of the effect, on themselves and on their clients. It has been posed by skeptics that the essences work solely on the placebo effect. Certainly, when taken in conjunction with mindfulness re: their specific purpose, the effectiveness may be increased. However, essences have been used on animals and children, with success, which lends credibility since these individuals do not know that they are taking anything.

In the comprehensive publication put out by The Flower Essence Society - Flower Essence Repertory, (Kaminski and Katz, 1986), the authors address the challenge of studying vibrational remedies. FES advocates for a “living science of nature”,  to create a holistic rather than reductionistic method.

What kind of science can comprehend the mystery of flower essences? Such a science requires the disciplined observation of systematic thinking, which characterizes the scientific method, but must be broad enough to encompass the reality of the human soul and the world soul. It perceives Nature not as a collection of mechanical objects, but as a community of beings. It is holistic, rather than reductionistic science, which not only separates physical reality into its component parts, but also recognizes how each part is an expression of a greater whole. This science also recognizes that while we are the observers of life, we are also active participants in life, and that the polarity of objectivity and subjectivity must find a new synthesis. (p. 38)
Because of the lack of interest, and funding, in the scientific community for controlled clinical studies, the research on essences is lacking in this area, but could certainly be done. FES also recommends research techniques which detect subtle energies, such as sensitive crystallization where “various organic substances are added to a copper chloride solution to produce distinctive crystallization patterns according to the nature of the substance.” (p. 61) Kirlian photography, which shows an image of a subject’s electromagnetic field, has been used to capture the “aura” of flower essences, and are reproduced in Mechthield Scheffer’s The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy. Each essence has a unique signature. (Kirlian photography is not accepted universally in the scientific community as “proof” of auras or vibration.)


“The macrocosm itself acts to re-tune the human microcosm in the same way that walking in the woods or witnessing a sunrise does. This happens very subtly, nearly imperceptibly, and draws on specifically what is possible and necessary at any given moment.” –Edward Bach (Scheffer, p. 7 )

On a simplified level, it can be said that flower essences work through attunement. There is a popular metaphor that is often used to explain: if you have two guitars in a room and you pluck the A string of one, the A string on the other will begin to vibrate, because it resonates. The same thing will happen to two tuning forks. Strike one and hold it up to the other, and the second will vibrate. In the theory of vibrational physical medicine, it is assumed that the chakras and energy meridians in the body have their own frequency that they resonate at. If there is disease or disharmony in the body, the theory is that it can be brought back into balance by applying the appropriate vibration.

But how does this work on the emotional body, or psyche? Flower essences relate to imbalances in consciousness. Balance, however, is not static, but requires continual shifting, change and adjustment to maintain. It is in this way that working on the emotional body differs from simply keeping one’s chakras in tune. Working with the idea of polarities, flower essences run the whole spectrum of experience, from those who are undiscriminating in their boundaries, to those who are too defensive and need to establish contact with others. In working with polarities, if one is manifesting on a negative pole, taking an essence that represents balanced expression of that quality will bring the positive and negative poles into unity with each other, allowing for healthy integration. Negative feelings or patterns are not treated as something to eradicate, but rather as the unbalanced qualities of a strength.

It can be related to the alchemical tradition, as explained in The Flower Essence Repertory.

The essence derived from the blossoming plant creates an alchemical quinta essentia, facilitating a soul dialogue between the archetypes of Nature and the archetypes within the human soul. This is not based on romantic sentimental projection, or nostalgia for a mythic golden age. Rather, it is a very precise understanding that the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the human psyche are reflections of the same cosmic laws inherent in the growth patterns, shapes, colors, fragrances, and vital energies of Nature, which are expressed in the flowering plant. This is the meaning of the alchemical teaching. “As Above, So Below.” The soul life we find as we journey inward corresponds to the anima mundi of Nature herself.” (Kaminski and Katz, p. 25)