People often confuse essential oils and flower essences. Although both essential oils and flower essences have therapeutic benefits they are, in fact, different commodities. They are extracted in different ways and are also used in different ways. This article outlines the differences and similarities between these two popular natural products – and when you should each one.
Essential oils are natural oils that are extracted from plants. They are used in aromatherapy for therapeutic purposes for common conditions such as asthma, arthritis, back pain and stress. Essential oils are extracted from the hairs, glands or sacs of plants and plant parts such as bark, roots, leaves, flowers, grasses and seeds. The two most common extraction methods for essential oils are distillation and cold expression. Most citrus essential oils are cold expressed in comparison to other types of oils. Examples of essential oils include lemon, lavender, orange, rose, peppermint, rosemary, cypress, clary sage and eucalyptus.
Dr. Edward Bach (1886 – 1936) is the most well known name accredited with the discovery of the therapeutic benefits of flower essences. However, in addition to The Bach Flower Remedies, there are also other types of flower essences in practice today such as the Australian Bush Flower Essences. Flower essences correspond to a virtue, or emotional imbalance, in the body that causes dis-harmonization; a suitable flower essence is chosen to address and re-balance the body (source: The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy, Mechhthild Scheffer). Although essences are referred to in general as flower essences, the essences do include trees too; examples of flower essences include rock rose, elm, impatiens, walnut, mustard, honeysuckle, heather and oak.
Plant material is collected from the plant, placed in a bowl of water and allowed to infuse the natural elements of the sun (or other heat source) and air. Once the plants have been infused for a period of time, the water infusion is bottled and stored, ready for use. Flower essences also contain alcohol (usually brandy) as a natural preservative for the infusion. Flower essences contain the vibration, or energy, of the plant which is used to heal the imbalances in your body.
Therapeutic Benefits of Essential Oils
Essential oils are used to treat both physical and emotional ailments. However, essential oils are predominately applied to the outside of the body and are not recommended for internal use without a comprehensive and lengthy training and understanding of the oils from a qualified and experienced practitioner. Use essential oils in skin care, for muscle pain, digestive problems, respiratory problems, nervous system disorders, for circulatory problems, and to boost your immune system. Essential oils possess many different therapeutic properties, depending upon the oil; common properties of essential oils are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, calming, digestive, anti-viral and bactericidal (source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless).
Therapeutic Benefits of Flower Essences
Use flower essences to treat emotional problems such as fear, loneliness, uncertainty, despair, insufficient interest in present circumstances, over-sensitivity and over-care (source: The Essential Writings of Dr Edward Bach. Dr Edward Bach). Different essences are used for different imbalances; for example, honeysuckle flower essence can help with transitions from the past to the present and elm flower essence can help build confidence.
Use of Essential Oils and Flower Essences
Always dilute an essential oil in a carrier oil or lotion before use before applying it externally to your body. In addition, pay attention to any contra-indications for certain groups of people such as in pregnancy or with the elderly or children. Be aware that some essential oils might interact with certain types of medication or other therapies, such as homeopathy or high blood pressure. Consult a trained aromatherapist for advice on how to use essential oils for a specific problem.
In general, you can use flower essences with other medications and other types of therapies such as homeopathy. You usually use flower essences internally via the mouth. Consult a qualified professional, trained in the use of flower essences, for advice on how to use for a specific problem.
Essential Oil or Flower Essence?
Both flower essences and essential oils are suitable for both people and animals (but be aware of any different reactions). They both have similar uses but there are differences in the way that they are administered, the safety issues regarding use and the types of plants (and methods) that they are extracted from. If you understand the basic differences between flower essences and essential oils, you can use both products to the best of your ability and knowledge.
Author is a trained and certified clinical aromatherapist with level 1 training in Bach Flower Remedies
Photo by Mike Gilbert Photography