Flower Essences: Connection to Nature's Transformative Power


by Julia Brayshaw
Photos by Richard Katz

An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in
the Ecologically Sustainable Medicine Journal; reprinted with permission.

The production of flower essences
Flower essences as a harmless option
Flower essences as a tool for individuation
Shifting our reality
The sanctity of the body
Flowers as reweaving matter and spirit
Vibrational medicine from Nature
Healing at the level of consciousness

When, in 1992, an illness prompted my discovery of flower essences, it was as though a beloved friend from childhood had at last resurfaced. As a child I had recognized flowers to be medicine for the soul, and it is this recognition that lies at the heart of flower essence therapy.

The culture of my childhood was not able to nourish the special kinship that I felt with the plant world, the delight I found with the flowers and the awakenings I experienced in their presence. Today our world is still dominated by a mechanistic view that does not recognize our intrinsic connection to all of nature. This 300 year old epistemology understands intelligence as residing only in humans. In this framework nature functions as a vast machine. Through objective study of the natural world, humans can gain dominion over all of creation.

This view is being challenged today as archaic and erroneous. However, it is so embedded in our linguistic and social structures that it exerts a powerful, often unconscious influence on what we value, consider normal, what we manifest, and how we understand ourselves. Within its parameters, a medical system focused on eradicating disease and human suffering at the expense of living systems appears to be common sense, indeed, to be our only
option. Like most of our institutions, our medical system reflects and perpetuates the old epistemology.

The Ecologically Sustainable Medicine (ESM) movement is bringing to light the dangers of our present health care system, and calling attention to healing modalities that are life-sustaining. Promoting awareness of the crisis we are in and the solutions that exist is an important part of restoring our collective health and well being. Also needed is a transformation of consciousness. Without a consciousness shift we can take in information and learn new ways, but we operate like addicts attempting to change through Herculean acts of will while dysfunctional patterns still hold us in their grip.

Because of the methods of production and application of the flower remedies, on a concrete level, flower essence therapy is a sustainable practice. As well, the contribution of this modality to ESM is more extensive. At its core, flower essence therapy is a relationship between humans and plants, a relationship that reflects our innate knowledge of the unity of all of creation. It arises from a field of far greater possibility than the dominant epistemology; in turn, it brings to life and sustains this transcendent field.

When I began incorporating flower essences into my psychotherapy practice, I realized that here was a bridge connecting inner nature with outer nature, mind with body, human healing with right relationship to the world around us. I will discuss what I have learned through a decade of personal and professional use of flower essences in terms of their multifaceted contribution to wellness, from concrete benefits to their essential evolutionary quality. This discussion will illuminate the ways that flower essences are a tool for transforming consciousness.

Golden Yarrow

The production of flower essences

English physician, Edward Bach, in the 1930s, developed the most common method of flower essence preparation. Fresh blossoms are floated in a glass bowl filled with spring water and exposed to direct sunlight for a few hours. Once the water is infused, the blossoms are removed and the infusion is added to an equal volume of brandy. Only two drops of this mother tincture are required to make a brandy-filled stock bottle. For the dosage bottle, two drops from the stock bottles of each desired essence are added to a one ounce bottle filled with water and a small amount of brandy. A conventional dose of four drops four times per day means this bottle will last approximately one month (Barnard and Barnard, 1988). As can be seen, flower essences are not physical substances; what has been "harvested" is a vibrational imprint, and a small amount of flowers yields hundreds of dosage bottles.

Flower essence production is inexpensive, nontoxic, and sustainable. As well as the traditional method, alternative methods of preparation have also been recently introduced. For example, Drs. Atul and Rupa Shah, who produce essences from wildflowers of the Himalayan Mountains for use in their medical practice in India, avoid cutting the flowers through use of a glass bulb that encloses the blossom while water is spiraled through it (1998). Organic brandy or organic vinegar can be substituted for conventionally produced brandy in the essence production process. In some cases, producers rely on distilled water alone as an imprinting medium that will not degrade very readily over time.


Flower essences as a harmless option

Considering the choices for preserving agents as well as the nonphysical nature of the essences, it is understandable that Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz (1994), who have for over two decades compiled many hundreds of case studies from their own work and that of others, could write: "In general, flower essences are among the safest, most self-regulating health remedies available" (p.95). They explain that since a remedy's healing potential is unlocked only when there is a resonant response, an inappropriate remedy will have no effect. Also, the action of an essence is neither to mask nor suppress symptoms, as is the case with a biochemical substance, which triggers changes in brain chemistry. Rather, essences, with their capacity to entrain our energetic patterns, serve as awakeners, promoting awareness and unlocking possibility, allowing the user to determine appropriate response.

Compare the action of flower essences to the extensive list of
possible problems and health risks associated with antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications found in the Physicians Desk Reference. Nevertheless, these medications are prescribed and purchased in increasingly enormous quantities. The health risks are not limited to the users. Antidepressant and tranquilizer use causes pollution through both manufacture and excretion. Stephen Harrod Buhner (2002) brings to light the way in which massive amounts of these substances and other pharmaceuticals enter our waterways and soils. In one example he highlights "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac, Zoloft, Luvox, and Paxil", stating that they "have exceptionally strong impacts on aquatic organisms...even in tiny amounts of parts per billion" (p.98). Add to this that pharmaceuticals are resistant to breakdown, are unknown and alien substances in all ecosystems,
and return to humans through our water supplies, and it becomes evident that this choice of intervention carries grave and dangerous consequences (ch.5).

Scarlet Monkeyflower

In my practice, some clients have been able to discontinue
antidepressant use through the help of flower essences combined with depth psychotherapy. One example is the case of a middle aged man who had tried several times to discontinue the use of Prozac, which he had been taking for six years. Each of his attempts were unsuccessful because without the drug, his mind would race in obsessive thought loops. While taking a combination that included the essences of Arnica and Scarlet Monkeyflower, for addressing his difficult relationship with his body and with anger, this "squirrel cage" process totally resolved, and he was able to completely discontinue the Prozac, from which he remains free five years later.

In this case, a harmless substance was substituted for a toxic one. Yet a level beyond relief from pain is hinted at in this example. The deeper implications of choosing flower remedies over pharmaceuticals are clearly brought to light through a situation involving my daughter.

Black Cohosh

Flower essences as a tool for individuation

At some point during her sophomore year of high school, my daughter Dayna found that she was barely able to drag herself through the routine of her day. She knew that she needed to find a way to reinfuse her life with meaning and inspiration. When she continued to spiral down to a loss of all motivation and even a loss of the ability to believe that life could be different, she knew that she needed help, and she asked for flower essences. I combined California Wild Rose and Iris along with a few other essences based on the way in which she was suffering. Within two weeks I noticed that she had copied passages from two poems and pasted them on her wall. Lines from Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled" appeared next to Emily Dickinson's, "If I can stop one heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain. / If I can ease one life aching or cool one pain, / or help one fainting robin / unto his nest again, / I shall not live in vain." Another week found her successfully working through high school red tape to obtain credit for self-designed projects. Before long, Dayna was leading middle school students in drama and writing groups that became forums for the participants to nourish relationships, personal growth, and self esteem.

My daughter's process can be viewed through Patricia Kaminski's
(1998) model of the levels of soul development and healing that flower essences assist with. When Dayna took the essence combination, she tapped into her natural compassion and yearning to be of service to others as well as her own creative wellspring. This fits with two of the "meta levels" of Kaminski's model: discovering life purpose and meaning, and cultivating
creativity and artistic inspiration (ch. 9). Dayna's process could be seen in terms of what Carl Jung calls the individuation process. She was able to encounter her authentic self, liberate it from societal constraints, and give it expression. Her suffering, especially as it increased, was itself the catalyst for this awakening.

California Wild Rose

Imagine the process had she been given antidepressants. These drugs do not heal, rather they mask the very symptoms that can guide the way to healing. When emotional and mental suffering is merely ameliorated, this can assist someone to carry on with his daily routine and job; he is able to better fit in with society. While there certainly are circumstances in which this type of medication is an act of compassion, in Dayna's case pharmaceuticals could
have helped her to persist in business as usual within an institution which dampened her creativity and blocked self actualization.

Many of us are involved in jobs, situations, and institutions that
have grown out of a non-life sustaining paradigm. The very malaise that causes us to reach for medication is actually the needed catalyst for recovery of the vital source within. This self actualization process contributes to the collective co-creation of a vibrant, life honoring society. This comparison of flower essences to psychoactive medications reveals the profound consequences of our health care choices.


Shifting our reality

My daughter's flower essence experience along with many others present a challenge to the conventional way of viewing sickness and health. Embedded in our medical system is the idea that pain, diseases, and disasters arise from outside ourselves and randomly inflict themselves upon us. Therefore we must be vigilant so as to eradicate them much like an invading enemy. Through the experience of flower essence use, because of the healing processes that are set in motion, people begin to achieve a whole new orientation, based on the connection of the inner world to the outer. They begin to recognize a coherence, order, and purpose operating in their lives and come to understand life events, including pain and illness, as paths to growth and awakening.

Mariposa Lily

The synchronistic occurrences that appear in many case stories of
flower essence users point to the interface of the internal and external worlds. One example of this involves a visiting friend who took a flower essence combination to address her insomnia. Upon her return home she found a message from a former fiancé, with whom she had had no contact for years. As it turned out, the root of her insomnia lay in a lack of closure, previously not evident to my friend, in this relationship. In another case, a young man who was taking Mariposa Lily in order to deal with the effects of an impoverished childhood, received a call from his mother offering, for the first time, needed monetary support. Anecdotes such as these point to a level of connection to others and to life events that we are only beginning to understand.


The Sanctity of the Body

The new orientation, affecting our view of the unfolding of life events, clearly comes to life in people who take flower essences for assistance in coping with physical illness. They find that their relationship to the illness begins to change; soon it becomes a coherent and meaningful aspect of their lives, a messenger guiding the way to deeper healing and self recovery. In my experience, certain general themes have repeated in various forms. For example, women with breast cancer confront the impoverishment of some level of their childhood and recognize its influence on their ability to trust that the world can support and nourish them. Another pattern appears for people with allergies and/or autoimmune responses. They often uncover a history of emotional or physical violation, and as they learn to attune to their inner guidance they begin to empower themselves to create
appropriate boundaries, thereby reclaiming a sense of safety and

Essences assisted me in recognizing that severe digestive problems were pointing to a protective, avoidance approach to life that left unactualized my own power of transmutation. The illness was a challenge to fully partake of the world as it is, gleaning the spiritual nutrients offered in every situation.

In all of these examples, the body produced physical symptoms that both catalyzed a quest for healing and metaphorically mirrored the psychospiritual imbalances needing to be addressed. In this sense, we can understand the body as an evocative and eloquent messenger and guide. The processes awakened through flower essence therapy can leave us standing in awe before the sacred mystery of the body as well as help us to grasp the oneness of mind and body. Many mind-body therapies such as relaxation techniques and visualization promote the mastery of the body through use of the mind. These are useful therapies, yet our centuries old legacy of denigrating the body cries out for an approach which walks us back into the power and holiness of the body. In my process, as a result of the breakdown of my digestive system, I could appreciate the intricate, complex, and beautifully orchestrated alchemy that made up its functioning. Indeed, I began to see every system of the body as partaking in a most fascinating order of magic.

Pink Yarrow

Flowers as reweaving matter and spirit

When we are able to attune to a flower, we can understand why flower remedies intrinsically hold the power to heal our relationships with our bodies and with the whole of the natural world. Flowers captivate all of our senses, helping us to joyfully inhabit our bodies, celebrating our connection to physical life. The sensual becomes a portal to the extra-sensory dimensions of emotion, the imagination, inspiration, even spiritual awakening. The arresting beauty of flowers evokes metaphor and story, much like the language embedded in our bodies. Flowers communicate through the language of color, shape, texture, fragrance, movement.... As with the messages of the body, metaphor provides a bridge for unfolding meaning, helping us to understand the relationship between the gesture of the plant and the healing qualities it offers.

As we explore how the flower develops and the possibility that it
opens for the plant, we can sense its medicine. In general, when a plant blossoms, it has achieved a transformational leap; the flower is a shapeshifter that possesses the magnetism to draw other beings into a life enhancing dance; it bridges the plant to new levels of connection with the surrounding world.Within a matrix of interdependence in which each gesture is sustaining of the integrity and harmony of a whole community, the plant, through its flowers, generates solutions to life challenges with dazzling eloquence.


Vibrational medicine from Nature

A flower essence transmits to the user a vibrational pattern characteristic of a particular flower species. Like a holographic segment, this pattern contains the gesture and adaptive strategy, the archetypal blueprint, of that species of plant. At the same time, the pattern holds the essential qualities of all flowers and the wisdom of all flowering plants. When we follow a path of flower essence use, we partake of the intelligence of Nature, the way of harmony, balance, and interconnection.

This has many implications for people using flower essences. For
one thing, as is reported by Kaminski and Katz (1994), essence users become increasingly sensitized to the natural world. A friend who had never noticed or spent time in natural environments, after several months of taking flower essence combinations, began to notice and feel a profound grief for the clearcuts she passed on her way to work. At the same time, the splendor of the natural world began to unfold for her.

Another consciousness shift occurs when we experience assistance from a flower. We realize that within the natural world there are other life forms that resonate with our human needs and suffering. Along with a deep gratitude and respect for the wisdom and power of nature, we recognize that we are joined in kinship with the non-human world. Here we have left behind the view of world as a collection of resources with humans, the sole intelligent beings, as its proprietors and beneficiaries. No longer are we seeking mastery over nature, attempting to identify and extract the relevant constituents of plants; rather, we approach the mystery of nature with humility, recognizing this approach as a sacred act.


Healing at the level of consciousness

True healing, rather than eliminating the undesirable, is an embrace of what we have cast off, a movement towards wholeness. It is accompanied by an expansion of consciousness, as disowned aspects are welcomed into awareness. Through our separation from and subjugation of the natural world we have
alienated ourselves from our own true natures, our innate wildness and wisdom and compassion, from our very humanity. Self recovery is achieved through the recovery of our place in the natural world.

Flower essences are one of the ways that Nature reaches out her
sensual hand to us, offering the way back to ourselves. The seeking of this medicine becomes the remembering of the truth of the unity of all life. This precipitates the deepest and truest healing, in which our own healing is inseparable from the world's healing.

Self-Heal (foreground) & Calendula


Barnard, J. and Barnard, M. (1988) The Healing Herbs of Edward Bach. Bath, UK: Ashgrove Press, Ltd.

Buhner, S.H. (2002) The Lost Language of Plants. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Kaminski, P. (1998) Flowers That Heal. Dublin, Ireland: New Leaf.

Kaminski, P. and Katz, R. (1994) Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Earth-Spirit, Inc.

Shah, A. and Shah R. (1998) Himalayan Aditi flower essences presentation. Portland, OR.

Julia Brayshaw lives in Olympia, Washington where she maintains a private pratice in psychotherapy. She is a licensed mental health counselor as well as a Flower Essence Society certified practitioner. She is presently engaged in the writing for a project called "A Medicine of Place", which is a collaboration of written word and visual art highlighting some of the Pacific Northwest flora that grace her home region. She is a member of both the ESM Practitioner Network and FES Practitioner Network. Julia can be reached at 360.956.9285 or contact her by email, juliamb33@hotmail.com.


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