Bach Flower Remedies
In the early part of the 20th century, a British physician named Edward Bach developed a system of healing based on flowers. Each of these Bach flower remedies was created by dipping a particular type of flower in water and then preserving the fragrant liquid with brandy. According to Dr. Bach, the appropriately chosen flower could be used to treat emotional problems, such as shyness, anxiety, and grief. Bach flower remedies are sometimes compared to homeopathy, but they differ because they do not use extreme dilutions.
Numerous additional remedies were added to the original repertory proposed by Bach, and this form of treatment is widely used today. However, there is no scientific evidence that any Bach flower remedy produces a medicinal effect, and there is some evidence that the method does not work.
In 2001, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study tested whether a particular combination of Bach flower remedies could relieve the anxiety that students experience while taking exams.1 The trial used a mixture containing 10 flower extracts: impatiens, mimulus, gentian, chestnut bud, rock rose, larch, cherry plum, white chestnut, scleranthus, and elm. (An expert in the use of Bach flower remedies suggested this particular combination.) A total of 61 students were enrolled in the study; 55 completed it. Each participant received either the Bach flower remedy or placebo for a period of 2 weeks leading up to an exam. Participants answered a questionnaire to assess their anxiety levels before starting treatment and just prior to the test. Unfortunately, the use of Bach flower remedies did not measurably reduce anxiety levels compared to placebo.
A previous study also evaluated the use of a Bach flower remedy (Rescue Remedy) for treating test anxiety and found no benefit.2 However, more than 50% of the participants dropped out, making the results of that trial unreliable. Another study of Rescue Remedy for situational anxiety also failed to find that it was more effective than placebo.4 However, after the study was concluded, researchers then explored the data, and found a relative benefit in one subgroup of participants. This may appear to support the use of Rescue Remedy. However, such “post-hoc” statistical analyses are notoriously unreliable: based on the laws of chance alone, it is almost always possible to find some subgroup that showed benefit in a study. The process of doing this is called “data dredging,” or sometimes, “going on a treasure hunt.” Such investigatory analyses of data can provide fodder for future studies, but they make no positive statement about the results of a study already conducted. Researchers must state in advance what measurement they plan to look at (the primary outcome measure), and base their conclusion on the results of that measurement. From that perspective, this was a negative trial.
At the very least, Bach flower remedies should be harmless because they are sufficiently diluted to minimize the presence of any active ingredients.
References [ + ]
1. Walach H, Rilling C, Engelke U. Efficacy of Bach-flower remedies in test anxiety: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial with partial crossover. J Anxiety Disord. 2001;15:359-366.
2. Armstrong NC, Ernst E. A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of a Bach Flower Remedy. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2001;7:215-221.
3. Pintov S, Hochman M, Livne A, Heyman E, Lahat E. Bach flower remedies used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children-A prospective double blind controlled study. Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2005;9:395-398. [Epub 2005 Oct 27.]
4. Halberstein R, DeSantis L, Sirkin A, et al. Healing with Bach® flower essences: testing a complementary therapy. Complement Health Pract Rev. 2007;12:3-14.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board