Tech UPTechnologyBach flowers, a dangerous pseudotherapy

Bach flowers, a dangerous pseudotherapy

The world of so-called complementary or alternative therapies is extraordinarily wide. Homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, bioneuroemotion , or ideas as bizarre as graphotherapy —healing by changing handwriting— are classified as pseudotherapies . Among them, there is one that, from time to time, comes back into fashion: Bach flowers .

What are Bach flowers?

Edward Bach began his medical studies at the University of Birmingham and completed them at University College London Hospital, where he received a medical degree in 1912. He worked at the Hospital, earned a diploma in public health, and in 1919, entered the London Homeopathic Hospital.

There he published several works trying to relate the well-known pseudotherapy with the functioning of vaccines —a fallacious comparison used, even today, by defenders of homeopathy— and, in 1922, he changed centers again, this time to his own laboratory. Between 1930 and 1933, he wrote several treatises on the properties of the sun and the “essences” of plants, until he reached what we now know as ” Bach flower remedies ” or “Bach flowers”.

This British doctor convinced himself that most, if not all, illnesses were caused by negative mental states, such as fear, jealousy, or despair. Following a method designed by himself, he identified a total of 38 remedies , each based on a flower, and which, according to his approach, would relieve a specific aspect of those negative feelings.

The method of selecting the flowers was quite peculiar. Whenever he felt a negative mood, he would walk through the gardens and pass his hands over the flowers that were in them. If at any time he “sensed” that the feeling was relieved, he would check which flower his hand was on, and add the remedy to the list.

To produce flower remedies, according to the original method, the plants are arranged on a silver tray and placed in the sun for three hours. Today, the detail of the silver tray is omitted. The resulting water, which is called ‘mother tincture’, is then diluted in brandy , in a proportion of two drops of tincture for every 30 milliliters of liquor.

Considering that a “drop” is a very imprecise unit, the actual volume of which is variable and dependent on the size of the dropper, it is not possible to be sure how diluted it is. With a usual dropper, a milliliter is poured with between 20 and 25 drops, so if we take that value, the dilution of water in brandy is around a ratio of 1:600 . That would be like pouring four tablespoons of water into a 25-liter barrel of brandy. Very homeopathic, everything.

What is the scientific foundation?

According to advocates of Bach flower remedies, their mode of action is not related to molecular or pharmacological mechanisms, since by leaving the flowers in water in the sun for three hours and then diluting them in brandy, the final result does not contain a significant amount of the active principles of the flower. His argument is that Bach flowers work through a subtle energy , dragged by the sun to the water, and from there to the remedy. That energy, until today, no one has been able to quantify it in any way, and its defenders are not able to define it in scientific terms.

However, you don’t have to know how something works for it to work.

When the supposed experts in Bach flower remedies are consulted about their therapeutic action, they list a long list of properties that act on different diseases , including anxiety, stress, depression, stuttering, smoking, lack of confidence, trauma. physical or emotional problems, acne, alcoholism, or attention disorders. Some dare to claim that they can treat diseases as serious as cancer or AIDS .

However, when scientific studies are carried out, and even larger ones, systematic reviews of said studies, it is observed that, as could be predicted, its efficacy is not superior to that of placebo in any of the problems that they claim to be able to treat.

In many cases —such as stress, anxiety or lack of confidence—, the suggestion of a placebo can produce positive effects by itself, even knowing that the product is innocuous, because the patient feels that he is being treated with something, and somatizes that sensation, relieving his discomfort . In this sense, one of the reviews states in a very ironic way: we conclude that Bach flower remedies are an effective placebo for anxiety .

What harm can they do?

While Bach flower remedies don’t have a real effect, you might think they don’t hurt either. However, it should not be forgotten that the main ingredient in flower remedies —and almost the only one— is brandy. And, as nutritionists never tire of repeating, no matter how little is consumed, there is no safe dose of alcohol consumption, let alone a healthy one . It is ironic, in this regard, that a remedy based on aguardiente is proposed as a remedy against alcoholism.

However, even ignoring this risk, arguing that only a few drops are consumed, and assuming negligible harm, there is also obvious direct financial harm. Those who treat themselves with flower remedies are paying for an ineffective product, in the mistaken belief that it will be of some use to them.

But the worst pernicious effect of flower remedies on health is the possible abandonment or medical inaction . If a person, faced with a pathology, decides to treat himself with ineffective Bach flower remedies, he may be delaying a diagnosis and treatment , possibly triggering the worsening of the disease, and when he goes in search of a real treatment, it may be too late.

In addition, accepting as certain unscientific claims in a particular aspect – such as Bach’s flower remedies – can open the door to many other much more dangerous pseudoscientific beliefs.

In the words of Richard Monvoisin of the University of Nice, “the basic tenets of Bach’s theory are based on unfounded and deeply intuitive hypotheses, pertain to magical thinking, and promote philosophical approaches that undermine patient-consumers , particularly with regard to sectarian tendencies.


Ernst, E. 2010. Bach flower remedies: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Swiss Medical Weekly, 33. DOI: 10.4414/smw.2010.13079

Monvoisin, R. 2005. [Bach flower remedies: a critic of the pseudoscientific, pseudomedicinal concepts and philosophical postures inducted by Dr Bach theory]. Annales Pharmaceutiques Francaises, 63(6), 416-428. DOI: 10.1016/s0003-4509(05)82310-7

Pintov, S. et al. 2005. Bach flower remedies used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children—A prospective double blind controlled study. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 9(6), 395-398. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejpn.2005.08.001

Thaler, K. et al. 2009. Bach Flower Remedies for psychological problems and pain: a systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 9(1), 16. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-9-16

Walach, H. et al. 2001. Efficacy of Bach-flower remedies in test anxiety: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial with partial crossover. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 15(4), 359-366. DOI: 10.1016/S0887-6185(01)00069-X