Back in the 1930s a Harley Street doctor turned his back on conventional medicine to find cures for his patient’s health problems in nature. He abandoned his medical practice and devoted his life to finding natural remedies to heal the emotional states that he believed were causing his patient’s physical ill-health. He claimed “in those who really desire to get well there is no disease which can resist the power of the antidote to be found in the right plant”*. That man was Edward Bach and the natural remedies he discovered are the world famous Bach Flower Remedies, the most popular of which is the combination Rescue Remedy® (also known as Revival Remedy™ and 5 Flower Remedy®). Bach’s vision was for every household to have the full set of remedies to choose for themselves as preventative medicine. Now almost 80 years since Bach’s death, the Bach Flower Remedies are increasingly popular yet two huge environmental issues challenge the future of these natural remedies.
The first challenge is that some of the plants used by Bach and common in the UK in the 1920’s and 1930’s are no longer so widespread. The second is that we know that oil is fast running out so we won’t be able to import and export essences all around the world indefinitely. Subsequently we need to protect our wild plants and learn to make essences at a local level. A new project in Burnley is leading the way in addressing both these challenges thanks to funding from the Big Lottery’s Awards for All scheme.
Declining population of native wild flowers
Two of the Bach Flower Remedy plants are rare and declining in many parts of the UK. Scleranthus (for emotional balance and decision-making) and Gentian (for optimism and faith) are getting harder and harder to find in the wild. UK wildflower charity Plantlife estimates that every county in the UK loses a wild plant every year. This in itself is tragic, but for flower remedy enthusiasts it will hit really hard if we lose two of the Bach Flower Remedy plants. Compare the spread of Scleranthus (shown as blue circles) in Bach’s day on this map with sightings of it last year on this map and you’ll see the problem we’re facing.
One of the principles of flower essence making is only to use plants that are in abundance and to use the minimum amount of blooms, but even with such consideration the decline of these plants is a worry for essence makers. All the Bach Flower Remedy producers I’ve spoken to say they would welcome a sustainable source of the less common plants to make their essences from.
Rising oil prices and peak oil
You may have heard about peak oil in the media: the point at which the amount of oil we have reaches a peak and starts to decline. Nobody knows exactly when oil will run out but it’s certain that it will run out. If it doesn’t happen in our lifetime it will happen in our children’s and already we can see that the price of oil is rising dramatically. This awareness of oil as a finite resource has led many of us to become increasingly concerned about our carbon footprint and the distance our food travels to reach our plates. The UK is one of the largest importers of food in the world making us one of the least self-sufficient. We’re starting to think about ‘food miles’ and the time has come to think about ‘health miles’ too, looking at where we get our natural remedies from and asking if that’s sustainable.
If you’ve come across the amazing work of the Transition movement initiated by Rob Hopkins you’ll know that communities all over the world are finding creative ways to embrace a future without oil. If you haven’t I suggest you visit their website and get inspired.
Currently we use oil in every aspect of our lives from food to medicine, travel to plastics…the list really is endless. The sooner we can release our ‘oil addiction’ using it only for essentials the more likely it will be to last. We need to be looking at all aspects of our lives and asking what we can grow, make, recycle, share. We need to think outside the box when it comes to travelling, working, building and heating our homes. The Transition Network website has lots of ideas about how to do this.
It’s time for us – as individuals and communities – to get creative in our approaches to the future of our health and wellbeing too.
I’m really excited to have become involved in a visionary project at Offshoots permaculture in Burnley where we’ll be growing all the Bach Flower Remedy plants on one site. We’ll be teaching the local community about how these flower essences support health and wellbeing and showing people how to make their own essences. If you’re in Lancashire, join us for an essence-making workshop or tree planting event – get in touch if you’d like to be kept informed of upcoming dates.
It may take a few years for the Burnley project to produce the whole set of 38 Bach Flower Remedies (sunny days when the trees and plants are in flower are required for essence making and we are based in the north west of England which is not known for its balmy temperatures!) When all the essences are made, they will be available as a community resource for everyone to use. Until then the wonderful heart-centred people at Crystal Herbs have generously donated a full set of Bach Flower Remedies to be used at the project.
We’re hoping to successfully grow the more rare Bach Flower Remedy plants to prevent them and their unique healing qualities from disappearing altogether. I’d like to see these plants being reintroduced to wild places across the UK so they can flourish again.
My dream is for every community to know how to make their own flower essences to maintain optimum health and wellbeing. My dream is for our precious wild flowers to be saved from exctinction so that generations to come can enjoy their beauty and healing qualities. This new project in Burnley is turning those dreams into action.
* Collected Writings of Edward Bach ed. Julian Barnard, click here to buy.