Bach Flower Remedies: A Homeopathic Spin-Off
Edward Bach (1886-1936) was a British surgeon who became a homeopath after he survived a tumor. He tried at first to combine homeopathy with some previous work he did on vaccines, using his scientific training, but after some time he abandoned the scientific method completely and instead used his intuition to find the right plants for his treatments.
During his “research” with thousands of plants over the years, he discovered that the plants he used responded to emotions and that they could alleviate negative emotions.
He then began to use himself as a guinea pig, suffering through negative emotions, to find out which plants could alleviate which emotion. Eventually he finished his research, which resulted in the Bach flower remedies. One year after that he passed away.
So goes the story, according to what apparently is the official homepage for the Bach flower remedies. I was very surprised to see that the official website for such a widespread product is so outdated and hard to navigate through.
The official homepage states that it is unclear how the flower remedies work. Proponents hypothesize that it has something to do with either energy or vibrations of some kind, like spiritual vibrations or (*sigh*) quantum mechanics. But they do work, because they have an effect on people. Or so they claim.
One thing about the flower remedies that I find very interesting is that it is claimed they affect our emotions. Alternative treatments usually target somatic illnesses and not psychological issues.
There is a list of 38 plants that can be in a flower remedy and each one is claimed to treat some kind of negative emotion or mental state.
They are primarily being sold as a kind of “stress relief,” targeted at people who suffer from everyday stress or people who have an exam – for almost $23 for a 20ml spray.
But the flower remedies are also sometimes sold as a treatment for mental illness, which is troubling, since mental illness can be very serious and should always be treated by trained professionals. People suffering from mental illness can be desperate, especially if the illness prohibits them from maintaining a job, putting them in a situation where they can’t sustain themselves. So people who sell the flower remedies are in a way (probably unknowingly) preying on the weak and vulnerable, but not to the same degree as other alternative treatments do.
The flower remedies aren’t limited to humans. You can get it for your pet as well, since they also have emotions. But because you can’t ask your pet about its feelings, you must observe its behaviour. Some of the “symptoms” seem rather strange.
I’d better get some aspen for my nan’s cat, since she clearly seems agitated for no apparent reason. I also better give her some chestnut bud, since she can’t learn that she hates to be outside in the rain. Some clematis wouldn’t hurt either, since she sleeps almost all the time, and hopefully some Scleranthus can help her make up her mind when we open the door for her and she can’t decide whether she wants to go outside or stay indoors.
But how are the flower remedies made? Bach was, as mentioned at the beginning, a doctor who became a homeopath. The production of the flower remedies is a bit similar to the production of homeopathic remedies. They pick the desired plants and put them in a bowl of what they call “pure water” (whatever that means) and let them soak for 3 hours out in the sun. Some plants can alternatively be boiled for half an hour in “pure water.” Both methods allegedly release the energy of the plants into the water. The flower juice you get from that procedure is called a mother tincture.
You then take 2 drops from the mother tincture and dilute it into 30ml of brandy and your flower remedy is ready. When you want to take the remedy, you then put 4 drops of it in a glass of water and drink it.
But does it then work better than homeopathy does? Does it have any effect on people?
Not according to the scientific literature. A systematic review from 2010 looked at five electronic databases to find studies about Bach flower remedies. It found seven studies, of which six were placebo-controlled. The review concluded that there is no difference between the flower remedies and placebos. In other words, the flower remedies have no effect