what are flower essences?
Flower Essences are one of the most powerful yet misunderstood modalities in alternative healing. Flower essences are not:
- Essential Oils. Essences are energetic and have only the most trace amounts of plant material. They also don’t smell like anything other than what they are preserved with, which is usually alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine.
- Herb-infused anything. No actual plant matter remains by the time a commercially made flower essence reaches you, and anything you make at home will have just the tiniest bit depending on dilution. This is in sharp contrast to herb-infused oils, vinegars, and tinctures, which are methods of extracting the medicinal properties of herbs so that they are contained and preserved in the medium.
- Homeopathy. WAY too much to dig into here, but the basics are that homeopathy is based on the Law of Similars (like cures like) and the remedies are made from just about anything. Essences work on resonance and, at least traditionally, are made only from flowers (though crystals are super fun to work with, too). Essences also do not make claims about curing physical medical problems.
- Physical medicine. Flower essences are not intended to cure your stomach ailments or mend you broken bones. They don’t have any physical constituents, so they are not going to affect you on a physical level. But if you believe, as I do and as anyone who has gotten sick from stress and anxiety will tell you, that physical symptoms can come from emotional states, then as flower essences work to bring the emotions into balance, physical healing can occur.
- Bullshit. They are at the very least a truly fantastic placebo and tool for intention-setting and affirmation. However, flower essences have decades of research behind them (thank you Flower Essence Society!) and work on an energetic level much like Reiki or acupuncture.
So, what the fuck are they?
Flower essences are the energetic imprint of a flower in water, preserved with alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin. These energetic imprints work on the principle of vibrational resonance to bring parts of our emotional, spiritual, and wider selves back into balance. Essences are traditionally made (as credited in modernity to Dr. Edward Bach) by floating a flower at its peak bloom in spring water held in a crystal bowl. This is left in full sun for a few hours. The alchemy of the elements seals the energy of the plant in the water, which is then preserved with alcohol. This is the Mother Essence.
A few drops of the mother essence, added to a new bottle of half water and half preservative (if using alcohol, 1/4 is fine), makes a stock bottle. This is generally what you purchase at the store. From the stock bottle, you can repeat the process of dilution to make a dosage bottle. While flower essences are not homeopathic, dilution is part of the process for three reasons:
- 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 (Asia Suler discusses this with far more clarity here).
- You can get more use out of your mother essence. If we’re going to buy into the idea that the energy of the flower somehow changes the energy of the water and is thus available to us on a resonant energetic level, then diluting the mother and adding it to more water is just spreading the love.
- You can make blends! We have to shelve this topic for the next post (this bugger is getting long enough), but making stock bottles allows you to mix and match essences to focus more acutely on your needs.
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.
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Sounds a little kooky, right? When I first learned about flower essences, like so many of the tools that are now crucial parts of my practice, I thought it sounded too good to be true. I read the literature, took classes, trained formally and informally, and nothing made me feel like this could be proven. Flowers have energies and I can use them to shift my own energy? Craziness. But the anecdotal evidence is clear in my own life and in the lives of my clients. Is it placebo? Possibly. Do I care? Not one lick. if it works then it works! We don’t need to deny our body’s ability to heal itself, we need to encourage it. (For more on placebo magic check out The Woman Who Married A Bear.)
So, how do we work with them? Flower essences ask us to find the imbalance at the core of our concern and to select an essence to bring us back to center. Edward Bach’s 38 essences are described in terms of positive and negative states. We can choose essences based on the state we are in, or the state we want to be in. For example, if you have a hard time making decisions and seesaw between options, the essence of Scleranthus is recommended. The negative state is indecision, the positive state that you want to resonate with is connecting with your intuition to be able to make decisive and clear choices. If you’re not able to pinpoint your problems (and really, who can), you can use tarot to help find the imbalances, or work with a practitioner (hi there, friend) to get some perspective.
While Bach only discovered 38 essences during his life, organizations such as the Flower Essence Service as well as essence makers around the world have grown that number. That’s the fun part: there are no hard and fast rules (at least not the way I play). If there is a flower you love and have a connection to, make an essence from it! Who cares if it hasn’t been done before. Essences are an invitation to converse with flowers, to learn from them, and to open ourselves to the possibility of wider connection with this world.
Want to make your own? Need some help figuring out which essence is for you? Eager to blend all the flowers to heal yourself? Stay tuned! This post got super duper long so we’ll make it a two-parter. In the meantime, if you use flower essences, please share your experience on Instagram!