If you’ve ever wondered what flower remedies are, or – more importantly – if they work, you need to read our helpful guide
Written by Helen Foster on February 26, 2019
Reviewed by Carolina Brooks on March 6, 2019
Flower remedies have an air of the ‘very alternative’ about them; how can a few drops of something distilled from plants have an impact? But practitioners and fans claim they are one of the most effective ways to help rebalance body and mind.
What are flower remedies?
Let’s start with the basics – flower remedies are made using the flowers of certain plants to create a mother dilution, or tincture. They are made by:1
- steeping the flower heads in pure water in direct sunlight
- boiling parts of the plant in pure water
It’s said these processes transfer the plant’s ‘healing energy’ into the water. A few drops of the mother tincture are then added to brandy, creating the remedy you see on store shelves.2
There are many different types of flower remedies available around the world, but the most established in the UK are Bach Flower Remedies. Developed by Dr Edward Bach in the 1920s, he believed they can help restore balance between the mind and body.
Although flower remedies are considered an alternative therapy, Dr Bach was actually a conventional doctor. He was a surgeon and medical researcher in London when he started working on the remedies.3
Why do people take flower remedies?
There are 38 Bach flower remedies, each associated with tackling a specific way of thinking that Dr Bach determined by how he felt when holding the plant. The remedies are divided into three different groups: 12 ‘healers’ associated with personality types, seven ‘helpers’ associated with long-term emotional states, the ‘second 19’ associated with emotional responses.
The theory is that by using the remedies, you can help overcome that emotional state or the characteristic associated with that remedy.4 For example:5
- if you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t have the courage to say no to everything being asked of you, practitioners recommend Centaury
- for circulating, unwanted thoughts or mental arguments, and to calm mental chatter, consider White Chestnut
- if you always fall into the same negative patterns with work or personal relationships, try Chestnut Bud – it aims to improve a failure to learn from past mistakes
One of the most well-known remedies, Rescue Remedy, is a combination of five flower remedies designed to be used in times of sudden stress, anxiety, crisis or shock.
While flower remedies are mostly used to ease emotional issues, they could also help with physical conditions where emotions might contribute to the problem, such as headaches <link to: Headaches: what you need to know>, insomnia, stomach upsets or pain. They don’t act specifically on the condition itself, but instead tackle the emotion that may be triggering or aggravating it.6
How do flower remedies work?
There are very few robust clinical trials into flower remedies, but a major review in 2010 in Complementary Health Practice Review concluded they may work as placebos,7 making us feel better even though they don’t directly affect the body in any measurable way. Another review from 2009 found methodological problems in most of the studies that had been carried out, such as missing measureable factors.8
However, in a 2007 University of Exeter trial of 384 pain sufferers, 88% said they felt an improvement in their mental health after using Bach Flower Remedies. The researchers suggested that taking the remedies helped people feel they could switch off negative thinking and focus on dealing with their emotional issues.9
Research has also shown flower remedies may be helpful for people dealing with mood changes and emotions linked to the menopause,10 and for anxious thoughts and feelings caused by a stressful situation like a test.11
How do you take flower remedies?
Most flower remedies are packaged in dropper bottles and traditionally taken as a drink in water. Some, such as Rescue Remedy, can also be found in alcohol-free formulas, creams or pastilles.
To choose a remedy, read through the emotions it tackles, and then pick the remedy (or remedies) that best suit your situation and/or personality type.12 Then add two drops to a glass of water and drink it. You can also mix remedies if one doesn’t directly address your emotions, and up to seven can be used at a time.
While most people self-prescribe flower remedies using Dr Bach’s descriptions, you can also book sessions with a practitioner. These might be homeopaths, naturopaths or other types of therapist, but if they have trained with the Bach Centre you’ll find the letters BFRP after their name.13
Are there any side-effects?
There are no reported side-effects of taking flower remedies, nor will you experience negative side-effects if you pick the wrong remedy for your emotion or use remedies in an odd combination.14
Flower remedies are safe for children, during pregnancy and breast-feeding, and for pets.15 However, flower remedies are usually preserved in brandy so if you have problems with alcohol, or are taking drugs that might interact with alcohol, speak to your GP before using them. You can also try alcohol-free versions of Bach Flower Remedies, where the essences are preserved in glycerine.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. The British Flower and Vibrational Essences Association. The BFVEA Guide to Flower and Vibrational Essences
2. The Bach Centre. Making mother tinctures
3. The Bach Centre. Our Founder, Dr Edward Bach
4. British Homeopathic Association. Bach Flower Remedies
5. The Bach Centre. Guide to the remedies
6. Halberstein R, et al. Healing with Bach Flower Essences: Testing a Complementary Therapy
7. Ernst E. Bach flower remedies: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials
8. Thaler K, et al. Bach Flower Remedies for psychological problems and pain: a systematic review
9. Howard J. Do Bach Flower Remedies have a role to play in pain control? A critical analysis investigation therapeutic value beyond the placebo effect, and the potential of Bach flower remedies as a psychological method of pain relief
10. Siegler M, et al. Effects of Bach Flower Remedies on Menopausal Symptoms and Sleep Pattern: A Case Report
11. Walach H, Rilling C, Engelke U. Efficiency of Bach-flower remedies in test anxiety: A double-blind placebo-controlled, randomized trial with partial crossover
12. The Bach Centre. How to take the remedies
13. The Bach Centre. Your nearest active BFRP
14. The Bach Centre. FAQ
15. As above