When doing a search for ”Bach flower remedies“ in the international database Pubmed you will find 17 entries. That’s a bad sign to start with. And if four out of the seventeen are systematic reviews it’s time to start thinking twice. But one after the other…
How Edward Bach ‘founded’ the flowers
Therapy with Bach flowers is one of the complementary medicine therapy systems founded between 1700 and 1950 – in this case by the British physician Dr. Edward Bach. He lived in the thirties of the 20th century. This resolves the first popular error: Bach flowers actually might grow near a “Bach” (German word for creek), but not necessarily. Dr. Bach defined a total of 38 flowers which he relates with 38 negative emotional conditions. For example the aspen corresponds with the fear of the unknown – you might say here – nomen est omen. Beech supposedly has to do with intolerance and perfectionism. Bach was particularly fond of chestnut which actually appears on his list in three different variations. Bach’s fundamental idea was that Bach flower remedies can level a total of seven sources for mental disorders (fear, insecurity, loneliness etc.). An accordingly tuned therapy is able to re-establish the “mental-emotional” balance. But there are certain rules for preparation which can be – in times of increasing industrialization – looked at critically. For example the blossoms should be picked fresh, best if “covered with dew”. Then you put them in a glass of water. The flower harvest then is prepared with fresh spring water and exposed to the sun for several hours. In cases where you cannot harvest the flower, like the poplar – just cook leafs and branches. The liquid now is supposed to contain a “flower energy” no further specified.
Rescue drops for the neurasthenic
Back to sciences: One of the four reviews available on Bach flower remedies was made at the department for evidence-based medicine and clinic epidemiology of the “Donau-University” Krems in Austria. It’s about the effectiveness of Bach flowers in cases of mental stress and pain. “The background was that an Austrian health insurance company had asked us whether Bach flowers are effective, because more and more physicians require reimbursement for it”, says Professor Gerald Gartlehner, the senior author of the study during an interview with DocCheck News. That also explains why mental stress situations had priority in the review. “This is a frequent indication for Bach flower remedies. In particular the Rescue drops are subscribed very often which can be taken against exam nerves”, as Gartlehner says. Apart from that Bach flower remedies are taken – in accordance with their holistic approach – for many other indications as well, last but not least in veterinary medicine as well.
Doesn’t help, but works. Or what?
In view of the history of Bach flower therapy and of the low number of publications the results of the review don’t really come as a surprise. “On one hand we found out that the study situation is very bad. The vast majority of studies has severe methodical deficiencies. Nonetheless we can define as a rather consistent result that Bach flower remedies appear to have no effectiveness”, says Gartlehner.
The epidemiologists based their findings especially on one well-done placebo-controlled study. A neutral place, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the US, signed responsible for it. More than 100 nurses, both male and female, took Bach flowers every twenty minutes three hours before an exam during a double-blinded study design. Garthlehner: “The results were next to zero.” Also a study in Freiburg/Germany did not find any difference between Bach flowers and placebos in patients with exam nerves. And scientists in Israel discovered that Bach flower remedies don’t help children suffering from ADHS.
The question arising at this point is: What do we do with this data? “When we submitted our work, an interesting ethic discussion developed during the peer review”, says Gartlehner. Actually the scientists from Krems reasoned that Bach flowers admittedly are useless but don’t damage neither. In this respect you might as well take them against exam nerves. According to Gartlehner: “It’s for sure less problematic than beta-blockers or sedatives”.
A peer reviewer has a different point of view: He thinks it’s completely unethical to use a remedy if it is clear that it’s useless. This passage of issue remained in the final publication.