Today I’m going to step outside of Traditional Chinese Medicine and talk about something thoroughly Western: flower essences.
Believe it or not, flower essences used to be cutting edge technology. Riding the wave of vaccine development and homeopathy, Dr. Edward Bach devoted his life to finding a simple, affordable way for people to treat common emotional and spiritual ailments.
Flower essences are what got me through my last year of acupuncture school and they are magical. I have no other word for it. Like I said in the last blog post, we don’t know why many things in Western modern medicine work. The reality is, we don’t have to know why they work to know they do.
By the end of this blog post I want you to know a bit more about what flower essences are, their history and how they are used.
The lowdown on flower essences
My teacher, Sarah Chappell defines flower essences as:
The energy of a flower stored in water.
That’s it. That’s what a flower essence is. You can call it it’s spirit, it’s soul, it’s essence – it is the memory of a flower preserved in water. And it’s incredibly useful.
This water, or mother essence, can then be preserved with brandy, vinegar or glycerin to be taken on its own or used as part of a blend.
There are hundreds of flower essences and thousands of possible blends. But it all started with 38 essences just after World War I.
Dr. Edward Bach and the origin of flower essences
Dr. Edward Bach was a pathologist and bacteriologist in the early 1900s. After a live changing medical event in 1917, Bach found himself hale and hearty on the other side of a grim three month prognosis.
He turned his focus from vaccines to homeopathy but was bothered by the idea that cures were based on disease. We create vaccines by using inert or inactivated microbes. We create homeopathic remedies by using extremely dilute doses of substances that cause similar disease states as the symptoms we are suffering. But he wanted something more pure than that.
Like the ancient Chinese sages, Bach turned back to the natural world, leaving behind a lucrative practice to explore the countryside. Through trial, error and experimentation Bach developed 38 remedies to treat 7 emotional and spiritual states of dis-ease.
Many practitioners today still stick to these 38 remedies, but Bach always intended flower essences to be a home remedy – something the average person could make at home to treat themselves. Many of these 38 flowers don’t exist in the US or Asia so over time, practitioners all over the world have developed remedies from local flora.
But they all come back to Bach’s basic principle – the idea that the memory of a flower can have a powerful effect on an emotional state.
What flower essences are not
Before we move on I want to be clear about three things.
Firstly, flower essences are not a homeopathic remedy. Homeopathic remedies require levels of dilution that are almost impossible in a home setting. They are expensive and time consuming to make. And they are based on the theory of like-treats-like. This means that substances that cause symptoms like fever are used in incredibly dilute amounts to treat fever.
Secondly, flower essences are not essential oils. Essential oils are created through a distillation process that preserves the volatile oils. These oils are what makes the essential oils smell so good, but also what can make them so toxic. But the volatile oils were always present in the plants, meaning the end product – the essential oil – contains plant products. Flower essences contain no plant products.
Finally, flower essences are not herbal tinctures. Herbal tinctures are often made by preserving an herb in the same sorts of preservatives used in flower essences. But, herbal medicine is a physical medicine and treats symptoms that have already manifested in the body. The intent isn’t to impact the subtle bodies of a person’s physical body, but rather to utilize the chemical components of the plant itself to return the body to health.
How is a flower essence made?
Unlike with homeopathic remedies and essential oils, flower essences are very easy to make. You start with three things:
- A flower
- A vessel
After your “mother essence” is created, you can preserve it, usually in vinegar, glycerin or alcohol.
Traditionalists will say that you must harvest the flowers from a pristine area – without touching them – and float them in in a crystal bowl of spring water, covering the entire surface, outside on the brightest day of summer, preserved in brandy.
I made my favorite flower essence from a potted mini-rose, floated in a wine glass, left out during a lunar eclipse (during Mercury in retrograde) in the windowsill of my apartment, preserved in vodka.
This is really it for a homemade flower essence – flower+water+time = mother essence.
That mother essence is put into your home apothecary and drawn on to make your stock bottle. Depending on your preservative, the size of your stock bottle and the strength of essence you are making you’ll put a few drops of your mother essence into the proper ratio of water to preservative.
That stock bottle is then used to make your dosage bottle – the bottle you’ll use for your treatments, following the same dilution ratios as when you made the stock bottle.
Most bottles you buy in a store were not made in wine glasses in windowsills. Modern manufactures follow “Good Manufacturing Practices” or GMP to ensure the safest and highest quality product is the one that gets to you. Most of these essences are stock bottles and can last you years if stored correctly.
So, now that you have your essence, how do you take it?
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How are flower essences taken?
Most flower essences are taken about 3 times a day, dropped on the tongue. My first practitioner told me that I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink for 15 minutes before or after taking the essence and I have to be honest; that rule made it impossible to take the essence regularly. I have noticed no difference between taking the essence around meal times and on a blank tongue.
Some practitioners even suggest adding your entire dose for the day to a water bottle you’ll be drinking out of for the next few hours. I’ve seen this be very effective as well, and I love recommending this for patients who have difficulty remembering to take their herbal tinctures.
It’s not so important how you take the flower essence. Like my teacher once said, “I don’t care if you put them on your ice cream, I just want you to actually take your herbs.” It’s the same with flower essences.
The most important part of the flower essence is the affirmation. Why are you taking the essence? What state are you trying to shift? Remember that. Say it out loud to emphasize it, and work that magic.
Topical flower essences
A second, somewhat new, way to use flower essences is topically. This can be done at home on an area of pain associated with the emotion you’re trying to shift (see Louise Hay’s work for more on this) or on acupressure points.
Deborah Craydon and Warren Bellows worked through each of Bach’s flower essences and found that they correlated with acupuncture points. Through needling in clinic and at home applications, patients were able to see dramatic changes.
For topical applications, you can dilute the essence but I have had more luck with undiluted or stock essences when the emotion has begun to manifest physically (again, see Louise Hay’s work).
One last beautiful topical use is to use your flower essence in a bath. This can be an incredibly meditative experience where you literally immerse yourself in your intention to shift and change.
Where can you get your own flower essences?
As a St Paul native, my favorite place to get flower essences is Mastel’s because it’s so close to where I live. But you can also get flower essences in many of the local co-ops, Seward and the Wedge in Minneapolis for sure. You could probably even find them at Mississippi Market.
For those of you who aren’t Minnesota natives, a good bet for getting flower essences locally is to check out local herb and health food stores. The benefit of buying them in person is that sometimes, there is a practitioner on site who can help you find the right essence or blend.
If you can’t find it locally, you can always try online. Amazon is always an option, but if you’re going to buy online you may as well try Etsy; there are tons of small-time herbalists selling handmade essences that are super affordable and high quality. You don’t get the benefit of help with diagnosis so there may be a bit more trial and error if you’re buying online.
The final option is to go back to Bach’s original intention – making your own. The benefits here are that you can be absolutely confident that your essence is locally and sustainably sourced, but the somewhat large downside for flower essence newbies is that you’re jumping into something huge.
You need to be sure that what you’re using is what you think it is (so you’ll need a flower key if you’re harvesting from the wild), you need to do research about what the essence does from a more prescriptive standpoint AND you’ll need to work with the essence on your own. Each individual flower of a species has its own attitude and energy too, and you’ll have to figure that out. Sarah Chappell calls this “attunement” or “proofing”.
Keep an eye out for Flower Essences 102
Now that you have the basics of flower essences down, you’re ready for the next couple blog posts. While it is absolutely true that flower essences are not used for physical ailments, many physical issues arise from emotional or spiritual issues.
Next week’s blog post won’t actually be called “Flower Essences 102”. But it is going to be on the use of flower essences for labor induction and birth preparation. So be sure to come back next week!
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Resources and Links
Make sure to check out last week’s blog post – How Acupuncture Works
Sarah Chappell – Intuitive Tarot Counsel and Alcohol-free Flower Essences
Bach’s 38 Original Remedies
Louise Hay’s – You Can Heal Your Life
Mastel’s Health Foods, St. Clair Ave, St. Paul, MN
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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