Flower Essences

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Flower therapy is a relatively new form of therapy to many cat owners. However, the therapy has actually been used on people for many years. This article will introduce you to this therapy, which is often used with other complementary or conventional therapies in an attempt to alter the cat's emotional state and allow healing to occur.

Flower therapy was developed by Dr. Edward Bach during the 1930's. Dr. Bach was a conventionally trained physician who studied immunology and was involved in the development of a number of vaccines. However, he desired to find a less invasive way of treating patients that would have the same favorable results he saw with conventional medicine.

During this time Dr. Bach began to notice that people could be grouped based upon their emotional states. For example, he noticed that some individuals seemed lonely, some distracted, some fearful, and some were more outgoing. Dr. Bach began searching for harmless plant-derived materials for his vaccines (rather than relying on the bacterial products used at the time.) He desired to find plants that would have a healing effect on what he thought were the negative emotions that were at the root of many diseases he saw in his patients. This would allow him not just to heal the immediate illness but also heal the root cause of the disorder. By freeing the body from its negative emotional states, the body would be free to heal itself.

The system Dr. Bach discovered during his research led to the creation of the flower essences. The flower essences (flower therapy) are extracts of flowers; each essence addresses a specific trait of mind or personality type.

These flower remedies are used to improve the attitude, personality, and mood, which Dr. Bach felt was the key to many disorders seen in his patients. Dr. Bach felt that the action of the remedies was to open the patient to healing from within by replacing bad virtue (fear) with good virtue (calm.) Since mental and emotional state can engender health or disease, the flower remedies are used to achieve harmony in the patient. According to practitioners of flower essence therapy, harmonious patients are healthier as harmony precludes disease.

There are currently 38 flower remedies that correspond to various virtues. Thirty-seven are extracts of flowers, while one remedy is made from natural spring water. They may be given singly or in combination and are without side effects. Unlike conventional therapies that often rely upon drugs treating the symptoms, the flower remedies attempt a more holistic healing by helping the patient to heal himself.

These 38 remedies are divided among seven personality traits. The traits are fear, uncertainty, insufficient interest in present circumstances, despair, loneliness, oversensitivity, and overconcern for the welfare of others. The remedy or remedies chosen depend upon the most dominant emotion present at the time of the disorder.

While at times it can be challenging to pick the dominant trait in people when attempting to use flower therapy as part of their care, it can be even more difficult to determine a cat's personality type. However, experimentation with the remedies has allowed veterinarians to be able to develop a system for choosing the remedy most likely to work knowing the "emotions" behind the more common medical disorders that occur in pets. While this cookbook approach can guide the selection of remedies, your knowledge of your pet's nature and any changes you see and how well you convey this to your doctor are of much importance in choosing the best remedy for your pet's particular disorder.

The remedies are not medicines nor are they meant to replace proper medical therapy. Rather, they can be used with conventional medications (or other complementary therapies.) The remedies are best used to treat the emotional state behind the pet's disorder. This process of choosing remedies is not always easy. Because of this, and because of the need to have a proper diagnosis and therapy, pet owners interested in flower essence therapy should work with their veterinarians to determine the proper course of action using a number of therapies based upon the diagnosis.

Here is a list of the remedies and some of their uses in veterinary medicine.

Agrimony - Often used in stoic animals that do not complain about anything; good for restless animals, and those with skin infestations or irritation.

Aspen - Often used in animals that become anxious, are nervous and jittery, and spook easily; good for environmental stresses such as may precede storms and earthquakes.

Beech - Often used in animals that constantly complain or are picky eaters; good for any type of intolerances (grass, insects, etc.)

Centaury - Often used in animals that are more submissive and do not stand up for themselves; good to increase the desire to fight disease and increase the will to live.

Cerato - Often used for the inattentive animal, the slow learner, and the pet that is easily distracted; good for animals with disorders that are difficult to diagnose and treat.

Cherry Plum - Often used for animals that are destructive, incontinent, hysterical, vicious, or hyperactive.

Chestnut Bud - Often used to break bad habits in animals; good to increase memory and assist in training.

Chicory - Often used in overly possessive animals; good for animals to ease the emotions associated with letting go (going to a new home, separating mother and offspring, etc.)

Clematis - Often used to restore consciousness; increases the ability of the pet to focus.

Crab Apple - Often used to cleanse wounds and rashes; helps get rid of odors and poor self-image.

Elm - Often used for high-strung or easily overwhelmed animals; good for pets stressed by traveling,  strangers, grooming, boarding, shows, etc.

Gentian - Often used for animals experiencing any type of setback; good for depression due to chronic illness, separation, abuse, etc.

Gorse - Often used for animals that show signs of hopelessness or giving up; good for cases of abuse, neglect, or separation from the owner (owner death).

Heather - Often used for the animal that always craves attention; good for animals that seem lonely.

Holly - Often used in animals that exhibit negative emotions; good for pets that seem upset, angry, or jealous.

Honeysuckle - Often used for separation anxiety; good for pets with homesickness, separation from loved ones (boarding,) and to stimulate vital energies.

Honbeamr - Often used in animals that appear lethargic when training or working but then show energy during play time; good for slow starters.

Impatiens - Often used for nervous animals and those easily agitated; good for pets showing any emotional or physical pain.

Larch - Often used for fearful or cowering animals; good for pets that lack self-confidence.

Mimulus - Often used for fearful animals; good for abused pets and those that have become aggressive or vicious.

Mustard - Often used for animals experiencing profound depression; good for pets with hormone imbalances.

Oak - Often used for animals that are overworked or burdened; good for pets following malnutrition or loss of bodily control.

Olive - Often used for exhausted pets; good for exhaustion of the adrenal glands due to chronic illness, allergies, etc.

Pine - Often used for pets that try hard to over-please owners yet still face rejection; good for the pet that is "co-dependent" and acts guilty when the owner is upset.

Red Chestnut - Often used for pets that worry about the owner or other animals; good when the pet senses impending danger such as storms.

Rock Rose - Often used for terror or panic in pets; good for overly fearful pets and after any terrifying events.

Rock Water - Often used for pets who refuse to accept new training methods; good for pets with stiff joints.

Scleranthus - Often used for neurologic problems such as seizures; good for pets with mood swings or fluctuations in energy levels.

Star of Bethlehem - Often used for comforting the pet; good following emotional or physical trauma.

Sweet Chestnut - Often used to increase energy to deal with competitive events or chronic problems; good for an overall boost to the pet's mental and physical constitution.

Vervain - Often used for hyperactive animals; good for animals that never tire and are restless.

Vine - Often used in pets that are dominant to others; good for animals in competition to make them more noticeable.

Walnut - Often used to protect against allergens, infectious agents, and other pets; good to aid in transitions such as moving or changing households.

Water Violet - Often used for pets that are loners or prefer to be alone; good for any form of grief.

White Chestnut - Often used to quiet an animal's mind; good for pets in training and competition.

Wild Oat - Often used in pets that seem depressed or bored; good for pets that do not do what they are trained to do.

Wild Rose - Often used in apathetic pets; good to use to add some excitement to the pet's life.

Willow - Often used for resentment in pets; good for pets which may have been abused or those who do not receive appropriate attention.

Rescue Remedy - The only combination remedy made by Dr. Bach, and the best-known remedy among pet owners. It consists of the essences of 5 flowers (cherry plum, clematis, impatiens, rock rose and Star of Bethlehem.) Rescue Remedy has many uses and is recommended for any stressful or traumatic event, such as seizures, separation anxiety, a trip to the doctor's office or grooming salon, and storm phobias. I recommend my clients administer it to their cats prior to coming in for a visit, especially if the cat is likely to become stressed out.

Flower essences are administered by either applying a few drops into the pet's mouth as often as needed, or by adding a few drops to the drinking water (or both.) Pet's can be bathed in water containing a few drops of the remedy or it can be misted (sprayed) in the pet's environment. Rescue Remedy also comes in a cream that can be applied to the pet's body (typically an area with minimal hair coverage such as inside the ear or the inner hind leg or abdomen.)

There is no wrong remedy as they are devoid of negative side effects; there is also no wrong way to take the remedy and no right or wrong number of drops to use. These remedies do not produce side effects, can be used safely in all pets, and can be useful complementary therapies for owners opposed to traditional drug therapies.


Bach Flower Essences for the Family, Wigmore Publications, Nelson Bach Company

Material (Flower Essence Booklet) 1993:3-55.

Ball S, Howard J. Bach Flower Remedies for Animals, CW Daniel Co., 1999.

Blake S. Bach Flower Therapy: A Practitioner's Perspective, in Schoen A, Wynn S.

Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practice, Mosby, 1998:579-588.

Messonnier SP. The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, Prima, March 2001.

Moore AK. Healing with the Bach Flower Remedies, Proc of the AHVMA, 1998 Conference:47-53.

About the author:

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is a small animal practitioner in Plano, Texas. He is author of the Natural Vet series of holistic books by Prima Publishing. Visit his website at www.petcarenaturally.com.