It's early spring, and the Cherry Plum tree in the Bach Centre garden is almost in full flower. In the next few days it will be time to prepare the Cherry Plum mother tincture.
The remedy maker will collect enough flowering twigs to fill two pans. He will pour water into the pans and set them to boil on the stove. When they have been bubbling for half an hour he will lay them out in the garden to cool.
Later, he will filter off the liquid and pour it into one-litre brown medicine bottles, mixed half and half with brandy. This is the mother tincture: it will be labelled and stored away.
When the time comes to dilute it into a stock remedy it will be mixed with further brandy in a bottling facility in London - two drops to thirty mls. of brandy - and shipped around the world.
It's a simple process, and doesn't require special preparation or special abilities. All that's needed is sunshine, water, brandy, bottles, and the right plant on the right day.
While waiting for the tree to flower there are other things to do. The Bach Centre team receives emails from around the world, most of them asking how to use the remedies. People get confused by the many different ideas and selection methods and beliefs attached to them, and even straightforward matters like how many diluted drops to take at a time can seem confusing when different writers recommend everything from two to 16 drops at a time.
In fact taking the remedies should be as simple as making them: all you need to do is read the indications in The Twelve Healers and take the ones you think you need.
We spend a lot of time talking about simplicity, which perhaps shows that many people feel simplicity is a difficult, complicated subject. Certainly the history of the remedies suggests that it can take a long time to achieve.
Dr Edward Bach qualified as a doctor in 1912, saying as he received his diplomas, 'it will take me five years to forget all I have been taught'. In fact it took longer. It was eighteen years before he finally turned his back on orthodox research, smashed the glassware in his laboratory, and left London.
The discovery of the 38 remedies took another five years. Along the way Dr Bach perfected two entirely new methods for preparing medicines from plants - the sun and boiling methods, which are still used today.
At the same time his sensitivity to nature and to the people who came to him for help grew. Towards the end he would suffer himself from the same symptoms and mental agonies as his patients. During the finding of the last nineteen remedies in 1935 he suffered to an extreme degree from the nineteen mental states for which he needed a remedy, and only found relief when he found the right plant.
Dr Bach declared the system complete when he had all the remedies he needed - 38 preparations in all. The 38 could be combined into nearly 293 million different combinations, yet were so simple to make and use that anyone could do it.
Bach enjoyed many years of successful research in London. His work brought him fame and a high professional standing among both orthodox and homoeopathic doctors. Now he had founded an entirely new approach to healing that concentrated exclusively on the emotional and spiritual health of people rather than their physical symptoms.
We might expect that on his death he would leave behind shelves full of notes and published writings. But here too he was determined to leave things as clear and uncluttered as possible. Throughout the process of finding new remedies, he stripped out from his practice unnecessary ideas and theories. The laboratory and orthodox research were the first things to go, but more followed.
For example, he discontinued the use of succussion, investigated and discounted links between his remedy types and astrology, gave up diagnosis by physical symptom, and abandoned as unnecessary the idea of different remedies working on 'higher' and 'lower' planes.
Towards the end he built a bonfire in the garden at Mount Vernon where he burnt many of his early notes, determined that they would not survive to lead people astray in the future. All that needed to be said was said in the 32 pages of The Twelve Healers.
In his mind the discarded work, like the abandoned theories, was scaffolding: useful while the walls went up and the roof was put on, but cumbrous and unnecessary once people were ready to live in and with the finished house.
In 1936 a few people began promoting the idea of combining the 38 remedies into one elixir and so solving everyone's problems with a single mix - an idea that Dr Bach had already tried and abandoned.
'I think now you have seen every phase of the work,' he wrote to his friend Victor Bullen in October of that year, a month before his death. 'It is a proof of the value of our work when material agencies arise to distort it, because the distortion is a far greater weapon than attempted destruction.'
In the same letter he sets out the path that his successors should follow. 'Our work is steadfastly to adhere to the simplicity and purity of this method of healing,' he writes, 'and when the next edition of The Twelve Healers becomes necessary we must have a longer introduction, firmly upholding the harmlessness, the simplicity, and the miraculous healing powers of the remedies.'
Values and change
Simplicity and purity: the Bach Centre exists because Victor and Dr Bach's long-time helper Nora Weeks promised Dr Bach that they would continue to uphold those values.
But times change, people say. Things are more complicated. There are all sorts of powerful techniques available now that were not available in Dr Bach's day - techniques that he might have used himself if he had had access to them. Every week we hear of a new way of selecting or applying or making the remedies, or of new remedies that could be added to the original 38 - surely some of these ideas must be valuable, and worth incorporating or supporting in some way?
Anyone is free to look for other ways to work with the remedies, or prepare new essences, or build up theoretical or religious constructs of their own. Our path is a different one.
In Dr Bach's day it was possible to read The Twelve Healers and experience directly the simplicity and purity of the original conception. Thanks to the efforts of Dr Bach's heirs - our predecessors at the Bach Centre - people today have that same opportunity. Our duty now and tomorrow is to make sure that the simple heart of the work beats on into the future.
This means more than keeping Dr Bach's books in print, and keeping his house open to visitors. It also means being here, as Dr Bach was and as Nora and Victor were, to talk about his work and stress its simplicity in the face of every complication and addition. There are gurus and high priests everywhere for those who want them. Ours is a low church, with little formality and less ritual, where the simple original system remains as it was in the 1930s.
Which means that you want time to stand still. You don't want to add to the work even though additions can make it more useful.
The secret of great sculptors is that they release the figure that is already in the stone, and once it is released they put down their tools. Like the figure in the stone, the remedies were not created by Dr Bach but discovered by him. He consistently spoke of them not as a personal achievement but as a gift from nature, and from God. 'Once we have been given a jewel of such magnitude,' he said, 'nothing can deviate us from our path of love and duty to displaying its lustre, pure and unadorned to the people of the world.'
It is because they are a gift and not a human creation that the system of 38 remedies is perfect and complete in itself. We rest that claim on two facts:
- first, that human emotions have not changed since the 1930's, even though the causes of our fears and worries and jealousies and enthusiasms are different;
- second, that in over sixty years we have never had to turn someone away - and in that time people have not only received remedies, they have learnt to use them, which they could not have done if the system had been more complicated.
Dr Bach had the gift of healing by laying on hands, but he understood that this gift was not shared by everyone, and that it could not easily be learned or passed on. The remedies and the simple methods of working with them place this same power of healing in the hands of all.
'Think once again the joy this brings to anyone who wants to be able to do something for those who are ill,' he urged at a public lecture given in Wallingford two months before his death. 'It gives to them the power to be healers amongst their fellows.'
This is Dr Bach's central message: we are all healers. Everyone can use the remedies. Everyone can heal and in the process understand who they are and take charge of their own destinies.
In that case, says our critics, why does the Bach Centre train professional practitioners?
The Centre hasn't created professional practitioners - they exist already, and people go to see them because they find them helpful. Some professionals choose to work in ways that people find difficult to understand, which fosters both a sense of mystery and dependency. For our part we train people to work as educators, so that their clients can be taught about the remedies and learn to use them for themselves. Our best practitioners lose all their clients, and are happy to do so.
Dr Bach worked for several years in hospitals and was well aware of their negative effect on the human spirit. After leaving London and starting his work with the flower remedies he dreamed of a different kind of hospital, where people would go freely to find themselves and learn the lessons their life is teaching them.
He dreamed of doctors who would understand people as individuals and study human nature rather than test tubes and lab results. And he imagined patients taking charge of their own health by understanding and accepting the needs of their souls, rather than attending to the needs of the body alone.
When you think about these things you come to a startling conclusion: the hospital and the doctor and the patient that Dr Bach describes are all the same thing. They are all in each and every one of us. The hospital is not a building somewhere, but a state of mind inside us, an angle of the soul. The doctor of the future and the empowered patient are you and me, each of us helping ourselves and each other with these remedies.
Remedies and lettuces
Fine words: but the remedies are sold like vegetables in the market. Where is the self-help in that?
Anyone can make their own remedies, which is why the instructions for making them were never patented, but instead published, first in the earlier editions of The Twelve Healers and latterly in Nora and Victor's book Illustrations and Preparations.
For obvious reasons most people find it easier and more convenient to use remedies prepared for them by someone else. To meet this need Dr Bach and later Nora and Victor prepared their own stock remedies for distribution to patients, and supplied mother tincture to a select few pharmacies in London with instructions that they dilute them into stock bottles and distribute them through their shops.
Today the tinctures made with the plants in the Bach Centre's garden go to one of those original three companies, Nelsons, which distributes remedies all over the world. In addition there are other companies making their own brands of the 38 remedies. Instead of being sold in only a select number of places they can be bought easily in ordinary shops. You can find them in airport shops; you can buy them in supermarkets.
What would Dr Bach think?
This availability doesn't appeal to everyone. Dr Bach would turn in his grave, we sometimes hear.
But the idea of Dr Bach as an ethereal, esoteric mystic who was repelled by ordinary people is a long way from the man we know. The real Dr Bach used to lead sing-songs in the village pub and play football with the local kids. The real Dr Bach defied the General Medical Council by placing an advertisement in the newspapers, and when they wrote to censure him answered with the words: 'The advertisement was for the public good, which, I take it, is the work of our profession.'
Dr Bach would be delighted to see the remedies brought to market along with the cabbages, because that makes it easier for people to get them and use them. 'I want it to be as simple as this,' he used to say to Nora Weeks, 'I am hungry, I will go and pull a lettuce from the garden for my tea; I am frightened and ill, I will take a dose of Mimulus.'
People in cities who don't have gardens buy their lettuces from supermarkets; an age is coming when they will be able to get their remedies just as easily.
We have never hid it: simplicity is as hard for us to maintain as it was for Dr Bach to achieve. Since 1968, when Nora Weeks obtained the original medical licenses for the remedies, our desire to keep the system both unchanged and available to as many people as possible has taken the remedies into strange areas that seem a million miles from bowls and pans and flower heads: from European Community Council directives and regulations, to official inspections, quality control, British Standards, fire insurance.
Occasionally we have seen conflict and disagreement. On the one side are those who want the remedies to be mysterious and magical and exclusive. On the other are those - just as enthusiastic - who want to sell them like soap, with little regard to the basic values of the original system.
But the bowls and the pans and the flowers are still there. The 38 remedies and the message of self-healing are the same as when Dr Bach walked down to Wallingford in 1936 to give his work to the world. The hospital of the future is there too, a sanctuary of peace, hope and joy. It's in us now, if we choose to discover it.