Flower Essences: A Powerful Healing Tool in Naturopathic Practice

By Mahalia Freed, ND

Naturopathic Doctor, BodyTalk Practitioner, Writer, Speaker, Educator, Kale Crusader

St John’s Wort in bloom

Flower essences are energetic, or informational, remedies made from the flowers of plants.  They are gentle and deep acting, and are most commonly used to support emotional health and personal growth. One familiar example is Rescue Remedy, a combination of flower essences (from the Bach line) popular for anxiety and shock. Many people carry Rescue Remedy in their bag, finding it effective emotional first aid for calming down enough to drive home after a fender-bender, facing their ex’s divorce lawyer without breaking down, getting through a funeral.

In my practice I use flower essences to support heart healing, move through grief or trauma, overcome tobacco addiction, develop healthy body image, allow for true personal expression, help someone find their life path, and so much more. The subtle, powerful healing of a correctly prescribed flower essence is magical to witness, and gratifying to experience.

These days, I often choose a flower essence as part of someone’s naturopathic treatment plan. It may complement a homeopathic, or fill in the gap between counseling regarding relationship patterns and a custom tincture for a lung infection.

Case example:

“Sally”, a perimenopausal woman in her 50s who came to me for help resolving her hot flashes, digestive discomfort (bloating) and fatigue. When Sally first came to see me, she was depressed, but she had felt like that for so long, it had started to feel like all there was. As is common for people who are used to doing everything themselves rather than trusting others to help, she was not very expressive or open with me at first. We started out by improving her diet, increasing exercise, and ensuring that all her particular nutrient needs were met. For Sally, this meant more leafy green vegetables, less packaged food, and more variety in grains. She decided to begin yoga classes, and start walking more regularly. I prescribed a couple foundational supplements for energy and mood, and custom-formulated a botanical tincture to help decrease her heavy menstrual bleeding and eliminate hot flashes. I also suggested a journaling exercise. She came back and reported that she felt slightly more energy, as well as no more hot flashes, and no more heavy menstrual bleeding. Progress, right? Great, but her mood was still very “up and down”, and in my office she seemed down even while positive about the changes thus far. Next step: botanical formula for mood. Follow-up: helped a bit, but still “up and down”. Meanwhile, her periods continued to improve, and her bloating resolved once we identified and eliminated her particular food sensitivity.

When things are getting better on a physical level, but seem “stuck” on an emotional

Larch branch

level, a flower remedy can help. In Sally’s case, we started with Larch, a Bach essence for self-confidence and speaking your truth, often indicated for women with thyroid concerns as part of their picture. After one month on twice daily Larch drops, the effect was clear: Sally shared more with me than she ever had previously – confidence in speaking your truth. Amazing progress! We continued to incorporate flower essences into the treatment plan over the next 6 months, with consistent healing progress. Recent update: Sally and I are now working on the next level of her health. That is, with the help of the flower essences and the development of trust in our relationship, she is able to access deeper information from within herself regarding her true purpose. Further, Sally is now able to contemplate the changes needed to bring her current life into alignment with her passions and sense of what she meant to be doing. As she integrates this information and begins to make changes, I have seen her physical health concerns shift and lift even further. Witnessing her healing and that of many other clients affirms for me that personal growth is part of health. It is so clear that supporting personal growth must be part of truly holistic care, and flower essences are an ideal tool with which to provide this support.

Flower Essence Q&A

Q: How do flower essences work?

A: There is now solid science – from Einstein on forward – demonstrating that matter is energy. We know that the energy contained in a liquid can be used to influence human energy fields to help resolve ailments. This is what flower essence liquids do. When you take flower essences, the energy they contain affects your energy field, which in turn may shift your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state.

Q: Is this the same as essential oils?

A: No. Essential oils contain concentrated biochemical components of the plants from which they are extracted, while flower essences are closer to homeopathic remedies in nature, in that they are energetic imprints of their source.

Q: How do you make a flower essence?

A: A flower essence is made by infusing the blossoms of a particular plant, bush, or tree in water in the sun. The liquid is then diluted and “potentized” in a method similar to the preparation of homeopathic remedies, and preserved with brandy (or a nonalcoholic substance, if need be). The result is a highly diluted, “potentized” substance that embodies the energetic patterns of the flower from which it is made.

Q: Is there scientific evidence that flower essences are effective?

A: Yes, there is both clinical and double blind placebo-controlled study evidence that shows clear efficacy of flower essences. For example, this study http://www.flowersociety.org/cram2.html, titled, “Flower essences reduce stress reaction to intense environmental stimulus” found that two flower essence combos outperformed placebo in calming specific areas of the brain that respond to stress.

Q: How do I choose which essence or essences are right for me?

A: There are many flower essence repertories and guidebooks available. My favorite one is here: http://www.fesflowers.com/fes_books.htm#rep

You can choose remedies for yourself, based on the particular emotional state you are working with. In some cases, this can be amazingly effective. However, I strongly suggest working with a practitioner in choosing essences. Prescribing accurately requires a certain amount of objectivity that most of us cannot muster about ourselves. Despite my familiarity with the flower essences, and my training, I do not prescribe to myself, as I know I do not have the best perspective from which to do so.

Meditation is good for you. The Evidence from a Reluctant Meditator

by Mahalia Freed, ND

It took me years of resisting and suffering to develop and sustain a regular meditation practice. I share my tips and lessons in this article, Confessions of a Reluctant Meditator, or Tips for Fitting Meditation into Your Life.

If you are the kind of person who likes to know the why of things, here is a very brief summary of why meditating will be beneficial for you, too:

The evidence

As a naturopathic doctor I am well-versed in the evidence and clinical applications for meditation. It is amazing how effective various kinds of meditation can be. An unsophisticated PubMed search on the term “meditation” yields 2, 215 studies. Depression? Meditation may be as effective as medication. Cancer? Meditation improves mood, sleep, immune system, quality of life. Stress? Meditate to lower blood pressure. Heart disease? Yup. Meditation helps. Indeed, mindfulness-based stress reduction for heart disease, chronic pain and many other conditions is taught at hospitals and in private practices across North America based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

Even more compellingly, my clients are a fantastic and inspiring bunch. They tell me that meditation practice helps them manage anxiety, gives them energy when their work involves long hours and traveling, keeps them happier, helps them connect more with their friends and family. So not only do I know about the benefits from reading the studies, I know about it from clinical practice.

The bullet points:

  • It feels good.
  • It is free.
  • It can help restore emotional clarity and balance, making you feel better if you are stressed or sad.
  • It can energize you when you feel tired (though it’s not a substitute for quality sleep, you type A’s out there!).
  • It can help you tap your inner wisdom when you feel uncertain about a decision.
  • It can reclaim stillness from the frenzied pace of modern day life, readjusting the skewed balance between being and doing.
  • It can reconnect you with your intuition and creativity.
  • It will give you unexpected gifts (for me this has included concrete reassurance when things felt dire, and recently, the name of a remedy I hadn’t consciously heard of that was the perfect fit for someone in my care with a complex clinical case).
  • It doesn’t have to be hard.

Want some tips to help you find a way to integrate meditation into your full life? Get started here. And please share what works and doesn’t for you!

Confessions of a Reluctant Meditator, or Tips for Fitting Meditation Into Your Life

by Mahalia Freed, ND

I am delighted to tell you that I proved myself wrong this year.

In the past 12 months I have gone from a firm, “meditation is for other people” identity, to being a person who strategizes to find that time in my day.

Huge shift!

Yup, despite ‘knowing better’ via the clinical evidence I saw regularly and the clear benefits in the research, I was sure it was something I couldn’t do. I truly believed that meditation was great for other people – but not for me. I couldn’t sit still, couldn’t quiet my mind, didn’t feel “good” at it. And you know, overachievers like me, we like to be good at things right away.

In effect, I was seeking less challenge, more comfort zone.

Sound familiar?

But, why leave the comfort zone? Well, you can’t grow in the comfort zone. And I got to the point where the benefits of growth outweighed my need for the ‘safety’ of the familiar. I felt like there was more within me but I couldn’t access it. I was frustrated. And stressed out. The tools I had weren’t enough to get me where I wanted to go. And then one more person told me meditation would allow me to get there, right after I finally found the type of meditation that resonates with me (see lesson #1 below). And I tried it. And I liked it. So I did it again. And again. Interestingly, leaving the comfort zone has felt great. So much for holding ourselves back to avoid hard, painful things. In retrospect, resisting meditation was a lot more painful.

I share this in case you – unlike myself – are gifted with the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than needing to make them all yourself.

I hope you find the lessons I’ve learned and the tips I’ve gathered helpful on your own journeys. Why? Because meditation IS good for you (details and evidence via this link).

My two important lessons:

1)    There is no ‘one-size fits all’ with meditation, just like there is no one magic nutritional supplement that is right for everyone. Once I realized this, I stopped trying to fit myself into someone else’s favorite kind of meditation. I found one that was right for me. As someone with a short attention span and a tendency to be “doing” all the time, Shamanic journeying fits, as it gives me a focused something to do while I am breathing and observing. I found I really liked how I felt afterwards. And I liked the gifts it brought me, each and every time. Even when I approached it metaphorically kicking and screaming. Simple – and eventually kind of addictive, in the good way.

2)    Limiting my personal growth with pronouncements like, “meditation is for other people” is only as fun as laughing at myself is later on – when I prove myself completely wrong, again. I am now resolved to limit the limiting pronouncements.

Tips for incorporating regular meditation into your already full life:

1)    Most importantly, be a seeker. Be open and find the sort of meditation practice that works for you. Is it Transcendental? Mindfulness-based stress reduction? Guided meditation? Visualization? Chanting? Shamanic journeying? One of the many specific yogic meditation practices, from Kundalini chanting and breathwork to Sahaja yoga’s mental silence? One of many Buddhist meditation practices? Walking? Sitting in nature? Prayer?

Once you’ve found something that works for you,

2)    Schedule it into your planner. Block off the time or it will get swallowed by the many important tasks and even greater number of unimportant distractions that gobble up our days. Very first thing in the morning is the most popular time to set aside time for stillness. Interesting, isn’t it? Here is the tone for the day: Calm, still, centered, grounded. When you put it like that, why don’t we all do it?

3)    If possible, create a corner in your home that is set up for meditation. Having the space ready, welcoming and comfortable removes some practical and psychological obstacles. It doesn’t have to be a separate room, though it is helpful to have a door that closes if you share your house with others.

4)    Do it together. Meditating weekly with a group can help to deepen and reinforce your home practice. Or meditate with others in your household!

5)    Modern times, modern technology. Use YouTube and other electronic resources. Seriously. Whether you are looking for guided visualization or shamanic drumming, you can find it online, for free. Use those 10 minute clips as your company or motivation if this is helpful.

6)    Be flexible about the details. At the cottage for the weekend? Meditate on the dock. Meeting cancelled? Close your office door, close your eyes and breathe into your heart centre for 10 minutes.

For more about stress management and the impact of meditation on your brain, see for instance Alice Walton’s article, Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why Your Brain Cares How You Cope.

Ready to take stress management to the next level? Want to use meditation as a tool for getting clear as you “feel your way forward” to total health? Join us for our popular seminar, Stress 3.0: Feeling Your Way Forward to Total Health (dates under Events).

What works for you? What doesn’t? Share your meditation experiences on my facebook wall or via twitter. Change is possible, folks, and it feels good!

The Power of Placebo

Reframing and contextualizing research on prescription antidepressants

St John's Wort in bloomDr. Mahalia Freed, ND

So, the jig is up: An international meta-analysis on prescription antidepressants conclusively found them to be as effective as placebo (Kirsch & Sapirstein 1998.) Over a decade later, the hush-up is getting frayed around the edges, as evidenced by the recent article in Newsweek, titled, “The Depressing News About Antidepressants” (http://www.newsweek.com/id/232781).

According to Kirsch’s findings, which were confirmed again in 2008, careful analysis of all eligible studies on antidepressants reveals that prescription antidepressants are clinically as effective as placebo for mild to moderate depression (Kirsch & Sapirstein 1998; Kirsch et al 2008). These findings do not mean prescription antidepressants are “not effective”, only that the placebo effect is powerful, and the drugs’ perceived effectiveness may be attributable to the power of our belief in the medicine, rather than the medicine itself.

As I have written before, your beliefs are powerful in directing your healing. Continue reading