Bach flower remedies are dilutions of flower material developed by Edward Bach, an English physician and homeopath, in the 1930s. The remedies are used 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 dilute they do not have a characteristic scent or taste of the plant. Vendors state that the remedies contain something called the "energetic signature" of the flower, and that this can be transmitted to the user.
Remedies may be prescribed by a naturopath or doctor, or recommended 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 most well 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 trade mark 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 that works directly on the physical body as well as with the emotions, to be applied externally to treat 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. For example, one person will report that using a particular remedy seemed to help with 'X', then other users will then focus on that same condition either in treating themselves or patients, and will report findings. Results found in this manner are often skewed by a confirmation bias, a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.
Rather than being based on medical research, using the scientific method, Bach's flower remedies were intuitively derived and based on his perceived psychic connections to the plants.p.185 If he 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.
Rather than recognizing the role of germ theory of disease, defective organs and/or tissue, and other known and demonstrable sources of disease, Bach thought that 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.
Bach advertised his remedies in two daily newspapers, but since his practices did not follow any scientific protocol, and his methods were not understood, the General Medical Council disapproved of his advertising. For example, in his treatise Heal Thyself he wrote:
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 is impractical due to lack of sunlight or other reasons the flowers may be boiled.
The result of this process is what he called "mother tincture", which is 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 beneficient 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".
Another important producer in the UK is Healing Herbs Ltd.
In the late 1990s, Nelsons and Healing Herbs Ltd' 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 as registered trademarks. This 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.
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 sample sizes but the studies using the best methodology were the ones that found no effect over placebo.
According to those skeptical of the remedies, 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.
The Dr. Edward Bach Centre, which is the Centre founded by Dr Bach to promote and preserve his work, presents this list of the thirty eight remedies discovered by Dr Bach and directed at a specific characteristic or emotional state.
Currently over 400 small (i.e., one or two people) to medium (i.e., up to fifteen or so employees) flower essence makers are active around the world, from Alaska to Australia, Brazil and India. In Britain alone over sixty different makers are registered with the British Association of Flower Essence Producers (BAFEP).
Some makers produce other kinds of what they call "vibrational essences," using sources such as minerals/gemstones, nonflowering plants, sea life, mushrooms, cacti, metals, intuitive methods, and natural environments.