Bach flower remedies are dilutions of flower material developed by Edward Bach, an English physician and homeopath, in the 1930s.
The remedies are intended primarily for emotional and spiritual conditions, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress.
The remedies contain a very small amount of flower material in a 50:50 solution of water and brandy. Because the remedies are extremely diluted they do not have a characteristic scent or taste of the plant.
Vendors claim that the remedies contain “energetic” nature of the flower and that this can be transmitted to the user.
Although Bach flower remedies often are associated with homeopathy, the remedies differ from homeopathy in that they do not follow fundamental homeopathic precepts such as the law of similar or the assumption that curative powers are enhanced by diluting and shaking (“succession”).
Two systematic reviews of clinical trials of Bach flower remedies found no support for effects beyond a placebo.
The placebo effect may be enhanced by the user’s reflection on his or her emotional state, by a practitioner’s empathy for the user, or by the administration of the remedy serving as a calming ritual.
Each remedy is used alone or in conjunction with other remedies, and each flower is believed by advocates to impart specific qualities to the remedy. Bach flower remedies are also used on pets and domestic animals. Remedies are usually taken orally.
Remedies may be recommended by a naturopath or by a trained Bach flower practitioner after an interview. An individual may also choose the combination they feel best suits their situation. Some vendors recommend dowsing to select a remedy.
The best known flower remedy is the Rescue Remedy combination, which contains an equal amount each of Rock rose, Impatiens, Clematis, Star of Bethlehem and Cherry Plum remedies.
The product is aimed at treating stress, anxiety, and panic attacks, especially in emergencies. Rescue Remedy is a trademark and other companies produce the same formula under other names, such as Five Flower Remedy.
Rescue Cream contains the same remedies in a cream form, with the addition of Crab Apple, the only one of Bach’s remedies meant to work directly on the physical body as well as with the emotions.
It is applied externally in response to minor skin problems such as itches, cuts, stings, pimples and burns.
Research on the effects of a particular remedy is done by case reporting with consensus review by other users.
Results found in this manner are susceptible to confirmation bias, a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms preconceptions and avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.
Bach thought of illness as the result of “a contradiction between the purposes of the soul and the personality’s point of view.” This internal war, according to Bach, leads to negative moods and energy blocking, which causes a lack of “harmony,” thus leading to physical diseases.
Rather than being based on research using the scientific method, Bach’s flower remedies were intuitively derived and based on his perceived psychic connections to the plants.
If Bach felt a negative emotion, he would hold his hand over different plants, and if one alleviated the emotion, he would ascribe the power to heal that emotional problem to that plant.
He believed that early morning sunlight passing through dew-drops on flower petals transferred the healing power of the flower onto the water, so he would collect the dew drops from the plants and preserve the dew with an equal amount of brandy to produce a mother tincture which would be further diluted before use.
Later, he found that the amount of dew he could collect was not sufficient, so he would suspend flowers in spring water and allow the sun’s rays to pass through them.
Bach advertised his remedies in two daily newspapers, but since his practices did not follow any scientific protocol, and his methods and claims were unproven, the General Medical Council disapproved of his advertising. For example, in his treatise Heal Thyself he wrote:
“Disease will never be cured or eradicated by present materialistic methods, for the simple reason that disease in its origin is not material . . . Disease is in essence the result of conflict between the Soul and Mind and will never be eradicated except by spiritual and mental effort.”
Edward Bach thought that dew collected from the flowers of plants contains some of the properties of the plant, and that it was more potent on flowers grown in the sun.
As it was impractical to collect dew in quantity, he decided to pick flowers and steep them in a bowl of water under sunlight. If this was impractical due to lack of sunlight or other reasons, he decided the flowers may be boiled.
The result of this process Bach termed the “mother tincture”, which is then further diluted before sale or use.
Bach was satisfied with the method, because of its simplicity, and because it involved a process of combination of the four elements:
“The earth to nurture the plant, the air from which it feeds, the sun or fire to enable it to impart its power, and water to collect and be enriched with its beneficent magnetic healing.”
Bach flower remedies are not dependent on the theory of successive dilutions, and are not based on the Law of Similars of Homeopathy.
The Bach remedies, unlike homeopathic remedies, are all derived from non-toxic substances, with the idea that a “positive energy” can redirect or neutralize “negative energy.”
Bach flower remedies are produced by several companies around the world. The British Association of Flower Essence Producers (BAFEP) list at least six companies located on the United Kingdom. It also lists several other essence producers.
Nelsons is a major producer of Bach flower remedies and manufactures and holds the trademark to Rescue Remedy, which is the best known example of Bach Flower Remedies.
They are licensed by the Bach Centre, whose bottling and distribution business was acquired in 1993 by Nelsons.
The Bach Centre today is an independent foundation that produces flower tinctures for Nelsons.Nelsons distribute both Rescue Remedy and Bach Original Flower Remedies to more than 60 countries around the world.
Another producer in the UK is Healing Herbs Ltd. In the late 1990s, Nelsons and Healing Herbs’ Julian Barnard faced a legal dispute concerning the ‘Bach flower remedies’ and ‘Bach’ trademarks.
In 1998, the High Court in London decided that ‘Bach’ and ‘Bach flower remedies’ are generics and cannot be used in the UK as registered trademarks.
This decision was upheld in 1999 by the Court of Appeals, in 2000 in the House of Lords and in Europe by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market in 2008. However, they remain registered trademarks in other European territories.
A recent database review of randomized trials concluded: The hypothesis that flower remedies are associated with effects beyond a placebo response is not supported by data from rigorous clinical trials.
All randomized double-blind studies, whether finding for or against the remedies, have suffered from small cohort sizes but the studies using the best methodology were the ones that found no effect over placebo.
The most likely means of action for flower remedies is as placebos, enhanced by introspection on the patient’s emotional state, or simply being listened to by the practitioner. The act of selecting and taking a remedy may act as a calming ritual.
A systematic review in 2009 concluded: Most of the available evidence regarding the efficacy and safety of BFRs has a high risk of bias. We conclude that, based on the reported adverse events in these six trials, BFRs are probably safe.
Few controlled prospective trials of BFRs for psychological problems and pain exist. Our analysis of the four controlled trials of BFRs for examination anxiety and ADHD indicates that there is no evidence of benefit compared with a placebo intervention.