Bach Flower Remedies & Flower Essence Therapy: Fact or Fiction?

Allen M. Schoen, D.V.M., M.S.

Flower essence therapy is a healing approach that uses extracts of various flowers to help living beings heal emotionally and thereby theoretically physically. Have we gone off the deep end? Is this for real or is this complete quackery? Good question! In my new textbook for veterinarians and interested animal health care professionals, “Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, Principles and Practice” that I co-edited with one of my favorite colleagues, Dr. Susan Wynn, we decided to include a chapter on Bach Flower Remedies since so many animal owners are using them.

There is no good research on their mechanism of action, effects or success rate. There are no good studies documenting reproducible results or efficacy in general. All that is available are anecdotal reports of success. Many of these may even be criticized for being too anecdotal because they describe emotional responses that skeptics may say didn’t exist or may have resolved spontaneously. Despite all these caveats, there are sufficient anecdotes from the public concerning their benefits and there appear to be no significant side effects reported that I feel it is something you might be interested in in reading this column. I must state here though, that in my practice, I personally find that nutritional supplements, conventional medications, behavioral modification techniques and certain herbal formula’s have much greater efficacy than EFE’s for behavioral issues.
Dr. Edward Bach was an english physician practicing medicine in the early 1900’s. He identified 38 English flower essences. These days, flower essences have been developed for flowers in Australia, Europe and well as the U.S. His philosophy is based on the vitalist theory of life, that we are beings of energy as well as physical beings. He felt the essence, or the “vital force” or the energy of different flowers could help balance the vital force of his patients. When an animal is ill, it influences their behavior and the psychoemotional state may impact on their emotions and their immune function. This actually may be one of the bases for an entirely new field of medicine currently called pyschoneuroimmunology, meaning the effect of the mind and the nervous system on the immune system. This actually makes quite a bit of sense. Most primary caregivers for animals would agree that there pets experience emotional states not that dissimilar to our own. These states can affect our health as well as be a result of our health status. If simple flower extracts could help heal those emotional states, it would not be unreasonable to think this may help the healing process
These remedies can be used along with conventional medicine and therefore may complement conventional veterinary care. Flower essences are not homeopathic, herbal or aromatic in their preparation. They are usually considered a form of energy medicine impacting on the emotions. Bach stated: “behind all disease lies our fears, our anxieties, our greed, our likes and dislikes”. Bach believed that pathological emotional states include: fear, terror, worry, indecision, self-doubt, impatience, pride, aloofness, apathy, as well as others. Let us take a look at how these may benefit our pets and how to use them
To prepare english flower essences (EFE’s) for our furry companions, mix 2 drops of each EFE, up to a maximum of 7 per patient, in a 1-ounce amber glass bottle and add 3 parts spring water to 1 part alcohol such as vodka. Shake it well and store in a cool dry place. You may administer 1-3 drops 1 to four times per day as needed. It may be added to the drinking water of cats and birds; for instance 1-3 drops per day in the water. Some of my clients rub on the inside of their cats ears and claim that it works well like that.

Let’s review some of these remedies. The most common remedy is actually a combination of five the flower essences collectively known as rescue remedy or trauma remedy. This has been reported to be beneficial for any animal that is afraid or in shock. It has been used to calm animals down after being hit by a car, or when they are afraid of thunderstorms or when they are in a strange place. This is commonly found in health food stores.

Rescue remedy is one that I do use in my practice and animals do seem to respond. I have used it with dogs, cats and horses where they are anxious, fearful, as well as for shock. Clinically, the animals appear less anxious and frightful. Some of my clients will administer rescue remedy to their pets prior to traveling, especially to the veterinarian and claim that they appear calmer and less anxious.

In my text as well as in various booklets for the public, the remedies are described individually as well as by which ones should be used for which emotional state. For instance, the EFE aspen is an excellent remedy for fear, especially when animals are afraid of anything unfamiliar. These animals spook easily and become nervous for no obvious reason. This remedy has been used with reported success for animals prior to storms, firecrackers, and trips to the veterinarian as well as for cases of separation anxiety when they are afraid of being alone in the house.

Other EFE’s include: cherry plum, chestnut buds, chicory, crab apple, elm, gentian, impatiens, oak, olive, larch pine, walnut, wild rose as well as many others. As you can see, these are plants that are quite common. The EFE’s can be used to treat both emotional and physical problems, but should not be used instead of conventional therapies, but either as an additional or adjunctive therapy or when conventional approaches have not worked. I just heard about an elephant that is in an elephant sanctuary, that had been removed from other elephants that it knew. As we all know, elephants are extremely intelligent and sensitive beings. This elephant became extremely depressed and lost weight and just continued to deteriorate physically and emotionally. An individual trained in the use of flower essences recommended trying a combination of EFE’s and within days, this distraught elephant turned completely around and began eating and putting on weight and adapting to its new situation.

When one has introduced a new pet into a household and they are not getting along, one might consider using the EFE’s of walnut, chestnut bud, beech, willow and holly. For motion sickness try walnut, chestnut bud, rescue remedy, or mimulus. For grieving consider using the star of bethlehem, walnut, honeysuckle, gentian along with chestnut bud. If your buddy is being kenneled consider using sweet chestnut, walnut, honeysuckle, star of bethlehem, olive and gentian. I must reiterate though that I have more success with these conditions with other natural therapies.

Again, you can combine seven of these together and administer all at once in a dropper. Sometimes, you may feel your pet is intimidated or lacks confidence. Some practitioners have claimed that a combination of walnut, chestnut bud, centaury and larch has helped these critters. There are rarely any side effects or complications with EFE’s, though if you feel the problem is getting worse, stop the remedies and consult with a veterinarian. If you have a hard time giving the remedy orally, try rubbing on the inside of your pets ears.
Let me know if you find that they are helping your furry companions. Like I said earlier, though there is no scientific proof that they work, there appear to be enough anecdotal stories that there is probably something to them. You can find many of these EFE’s in health food stores or through a holistically trained veterinarian. Good luck and may your pets be calm and loving and bless you with the same feelings!

No article can replace the services of a trained veterinarian. This article is not intended to encourage treatment of illness, disease, or other medical problems by the layman. Any application of the recommendations set forth in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion and risk. You should consult a veterinarian concerning any veterinary medical or surgical problem. If a veterinarian is caring for your pet, for any condition, he or she can advise you about information described in this article.

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