I never thought I'd see the day I'd be diving into the airy-fairy, woo-filled world of flower essences, but if you were to rummage amongst all the jars of infused oils and deeply coloured tinctures on the top of my china cabinet today you'd find 4 jars and several small brown dropper bottles of what looks very much like plain water.
Flower essences are sorta-kinda like homeopathic remedies. It's one of those "they're the same only different" deals. Their similarity is that both are extremely diluted - I'll tell you just how diluted in a bit - but they also differ in a very important way.
Homeopathic remedies are based on the idea that "like treats like", meaning they are most often made from substances that, in larger amounts, would produce the symptoms of the illness the patient is experiencing. Say, for example, vomiting. To induce vomiting, MD's use ipecac, but in homeopathy (from homeo = similar, pathos = illness), a minute (and by that I mean incredibly tiny) amount of ipecac has been found/is believed to cure vomiting. Similarly, coffee can produce the jitters but in a homeopathic dosage level, it can cure them. How does this work? As I understand it, (and I'm going to have to oversimplify, as usual) nobody really knows. There is simply not enough scientific, under-the-microscope research to say definitively what's going on here. But there is a couple hundred years of anecdotal evidence (aka practical experience) showing that it does something. Whether it is working by triggering an immune response in the body or a matter of placebo, millions of people use homeopathic medicine and swear by it.
Homeopathic medicine was introduced by Samuel Hahnemann, and there are of course several 'schools of thought' and ways of practice that have sprung up in the 200-odd years of its history. Matthew Wood gives a nice, thorough account of the theory and history of homeopathy in his book "Vitalism, The History of Herbalism, Homeopathy and Flower Essences". source (An excellent read for the serious student, by the way.)
The jury in my head is still deliberating about how I feel about homeopathy. Up until recently the word bunk was on the tip of my tongue. However, having spent the last couple of months with my nose in the writings of Matthew Wood, the "herbalists' herbalist", who uses homeopathy as part of his repertoire, I am now .. less skeptical. Matthew Wood ain't no fool.
I'm still very skeptical about the little pellets of homeopathic remedies you can buy at the health food store, but that's just my nature, as my regular readers well know. I know just how much snake oil passes for "herbal" medicine these days, to the point that if it's commercially made, I'm like Mr Horse.
Flower essences - and yes, my skepticism level is/was pretty high here too - were Dr Edward Bach's answer to homeopathy. He developed the now famous Bach Flower Remedies to correct what he believed to be the error of "like treats like". In "Vitalism" (pp190,191), Wood quotes Bach as writing, "True healing can be obtained, not by wrong repelling wrong, but by right replacing wrong; good replacing evil; light replacing darkness".
That's more up my alley.
Even though homeopathic remedies are so incredibly dilute that virtually nothing of the toxic substance remains in the solution, (so we're not actually "poisoning" the patient), I just don't like the theory behind it. It doesn't sit well with me. I won't discount the possibility that I might find reason to change my mind, but for now, I'm leaving it aside to look into later.
I've always been somewhat intrigued by the Bach remedies but not really enough to follow up seriously; reading Wood on Bach piqued my interest further. Coincidentally, this summer is the second in a row that my part of the garden is given over almost entirely to flowers (Paul took over the vegetables, bless him). So I dipped my toe into some of the available reading material online, and found that in addition to the now standard flower remedies Bach came up with, others have been 'discovered', and a whole world of possibilities opened up to me.
To my delight the Doctrine of Signatures plays a large role in the flower remedies. (Briefly, the Doctrine states that somewhere in the look, smell, taste or growth habit of plants, we find the 'signature' of each plant's medicine for human use. Eyebright flowers resemble blood shot eyes; mullein, comfrey and elecampane, lung plants, have leaves that look like lungs; yellow (the colour of jaundice) flowered plants like dandelion are good for the liver, etc.) I've always loved the romance of the Doctrine of Signatures, the notion that God has written this language into His world so that we could find our medicine. It's also a very elegant and workable system once you get the hang of it.
Nor are the flower essences restricted to treating physical symptoms, in fact they treat the psychological/spiritual issues that lie behind or rise from the physical. That is really up my alley, as experience has taught me separating the body from the mind/spirit doesn't cure. It might help, but it doesn't cure what ails us.
Unfortunately, to explore what's written about flower essences, at least on the internet, is to enter the realm of the pretty darn woo. One is liable to run across plentiful references to channeled entities and astral travel. Don't get me wrong, I read volumes of the Seth Material in my youth and it was good stuff, I highly recommend it. And far be it from me to criticize anyone who is exploring the astral (just be careful, 'k?), it's just not what I'm into (any more).
But there is writing out there about flower essences that is, shall we say, more grounded in the here and now, and it's exciting stuff. Exciting, because I'm discovering that certain flowers I have always insisted must be in my garden, that appeal to me deeply for no other reason (I thought) than their beauty, are, when turned into flower essences, known remedies for certain health and psychological bugaboos that I have never quite been able to shake off.
Hmmm, says I. Naturally, I'm tinkering with them, and the tinkering, well it's pretty darn woo, too.
It's a lovely process at first. Early in the morning of a sunny day, take a pretty glass or crystal bowl of water into the garden. Pick the blossoms of your choice and float them there so that the first rays of the sun allow the essence of the flowers to be imparted into the water (ahem). After a few hours but before the sun is too high and hot, take the blossoms out, pour that water into a jar, add about 25% vodka or brandy to preserve; this makes the 'mother essence'. Now you need a little dropper bottle. Place several drops (yes, that's all, ahem) of your mother essence in the bottle. Add more water, then another 25% or so of booze to preserve. That's your stock bottle. Now you need another little dropper bottle, into which you place several drops of your already highly diluted stock essence, then add water, then booze for preserving and that is your dose bottle, the one from which you take your remedy.
My skeptical side is reeling as I write this, I gotta admit. It sounds crazy.
But if you're wondering why this post is written here on what I jokingly refer to sometimes as "the God-blog" rather than my "official" herbal blog, here's why. Those little flower essences have a great big vibe to them.
Now remember, your writer has conversations with plants all the time. I find tiny eyebright in a great big meadow because it tells me where it is - "we're over here!" - and I've heard usnea ring, bell-like, on a winter day. So we know I'm pretty "woo" in my own way, even as I am eye-rollingly skeptical in others. I did not, could not accept that anything so dilute to begin with as flowers floating on top of water, further diluted as above, could have anything "to it", but holy crow does it ever.
"A smaller energy may be more easily able to find its way through our barriers and to the emotional core where healing must take place", says this writer, and "Resonance is most easily seen in string instruments, where if a particular note is plucked, other instruments in the same room may start vibrating at the same note. It is the same within ourselves: a flower's energy has a particular vibration, and when we take it internally or put it on our skin in an essence, we invite that energy to vibrate in our body and bring us into alignment."
Resonance. That's it in a nutshell, that's what it feels like.
I'm not intending to promote the business, but for those interested, this page has links at the bottom to a nice chart of flower essences. This is the one I'm using most often as reference as I tinker with the flowers in my garden.
This is a clever resource for choosing which flower essences to work with, in the form of a questionnaire; it comes from the Flower Essence Society
And for those of you who dig the woo, a more in-depth one here.
And here's Matthew Wood explaining why he likes to use small dosages, whatever the remedy, in his practice: