Bach's Remedy Groups
According to Nora Weeks, during his time as a physician at University College London Hospital (1913-1919), Edward Bach was observing human nature and reflecting on the role of personality in health and disease. Eventually he identified a list of twelve personality traits that he believed distinguished people from each other. Bach conceived of these as universal “types.”
Bach referred to the twelve types by their main accompanying state: impatience, indifference or boredom, fear, mental torture or worry, over-concern, over-enthusiasm, weakness, self-distrust, indecision, pride or aloofness, doubt or discouragement, and terror. He initially tried to match these types with the bowel nosodes that he had discovered. A change of direction occurred, however, when he became more interested in remedies from the plant kingdom.
The Twelve Healers
It took Bach from 1928 to 1932 to find the twelve flower remedies that fit the twelve universal types. He called these “type” or “soul” remedies and eventually referred to them as “The Twelve Healers.” According to Bach, each type represents the primary Soul lesson that is the reason for our incarnation. It also determines our default response to life, and it is especially noticeable in times of stress.
Below is a list of the Twelve Healers and their corresponding types, along with their standard method of potentization (the first few remedies were potentized homeopathically before Bach discovered the sun method), and the year of discovery:
- Impatiens for impatience (Sun method, 1928)
- Clematis for indifference or boredom (Sun method, 1928)
- Mimulus for fear (Sun method, 1928)
- Agrimony for mental torture or worry (Sun method, 1930)
- Chicory for over-concern (Sun method, 1930)
- Vervain for over-enthusiasm (Sun method, 1930)
- Centaury for weakness (Sun method, 1930)
- Cerato for self-distrust (Sun method, 1930
- Scleranthus for indecision (Sun method, 1930)
- Water Violet for pride or aloofness (Sun method, 1931)
- Gentian for doubt or disappointment (Sun method, 1931)
- Rock Rose for terror (Sun method, 1932)
The way that Bach understood it, a “type” remedy is similar to a constitutional remedy in homeopathy. Homeopaths might question the idea that there are only twelve types or constitutions––and therefore only twelve type remedies––in existence. We know from homeopathic practice that there are thousands—and potentially limitless—constitutional remedies. In fact, some Bach practitioners do not make a special distinction between type and other remedies in clinical practice either.
Some have also questioned why this particular group of remedies should be included and not others among the 38. It is clear that Bach had an a priori architecture in his mind and that the first twelve remedies discovered were a posteriori made to fit into it. In other words, the remedies were made to fit into a pre-existing conceptual model, rather than the other way around.
You may decide that Bach's distinction of type and other remedies has some ontological basis, or that it has practical value, or that it has no basis or value at all. You are encouraged to explore the concept and determine for yourself if it is helpful to you.
The Seven Helpers
Bach published an early account of the type remedies in The Twelve Healers (1933). Later that year, he discovered another four remedies, which he included in The Twelve Healers and Four Helpers (1933):
- Gorse (Sun method, 1933)
- Oak (Sun method, 1933)
- Rock Water (Sun method, 1933)
- Heather (Sun method, 1933)
These were followed by an additional three, which he added in The Twelve Healers and Seven Helpers (1934):
- Olive (Sun method, 1934)
- Vine (Sun method, 1934)
- Wild Oat (Sun method, 1934)
Bach now made the distinction between the original twelve "type" remedies and the additional seven, which he called "helpers" and which he believed to be in a supporting role to Twelve Healers. We now see the architecture expanding beyond the original conceptual model, with new discoveries requiring an expansion of the structure.
At this point, Bach felt that his work was complete. But this wasn't so.
The Second Nineteen
In an unplanned and unusually prolific season in 1935, Bach discovered an additional nineteen remedies:
- Cherry Plum (Boiling method, 1935)
- Elm (Boiling method, 1935)
- Aspen (Boiling method, 1935)
- Chestnut Bud (Boiling method, 1935)
- Larch (Boiling method, 1935)
- Hornbeam (Boiling method, 1935)
- Willow (Boiling method, 1935)
- Beech (Boiling method, 1935)
- Crab Apple (Boiling method, 1935)
- Walnut (Boiling method, 1935)
- Holly (Boiling method, 1935)
- Star of Bethlehem (Boiling method, 1935)
- White Chestnut (Sun method, 1935)
- Red Chestnut (Boiling method, 1935)
- Pine (Boiling method, 1935)
- Honeysuckle (Boiling method, 1935)
- Wild Rose (Boiling method, 1935)
- Mustard (Boiling method, 1935)
- Sweet Chestnut (Boiling method, 1935)
Bach included these remedies in the final version of his work, The Twelve Healers and Other Remedies (1936). This text represents a significant change in structure and taxonomy. Bach abandons the 12+7 classification of the remedies and introduces a new one based on seven thematic groups.
Did Bach feel that a new conceptual model was necessary? It seems so.
The Seven Thematic Groups
In the opening pages of this final edition of The Twelve Healers, Bach explains that "The title, The Twelve Healers, has been retained for this book as it is familiar to many readers." The only other references to the original schema are his indication that the original twelve remedies have been marked by asterisks and his placement of these at the top of each group.
Below you will find Bach's seven thematic groups. The asterisks indicating the Twelve Healers have been retained.
Rock Rose,* Mimulus,* Cherry Plum, Aspen, Red Chestnut
Cerato,* Scleranthus,* Gentian,* Gorse, Hornbeam, Wild Oat
Water Violet,* Impatiens,* Heather
Clematis,* Honeysuckle, Wild Rose, Olive, White Chestnut, Mustard, Chestnut Bud
Chicory,* Vervain,* Vine, Beech, Rock Water
Larch, Pine, Elm, Sweet Chestnut, Star of Bethlehem, Willow, Oak, Crab Apple
Agrimony,* Centaury,* Walnut, Holly
These are interesting groupings of remedies which reveal something to us about Bach's understanding of each remedy. It is enlightening that Bach grouped Larch, the remedy for low self-confidence, under "Despondency and Despair," giving us an indication of the depressive emotional state associated with low self-confidence.
While we might expect to find Mustard, the remedy for unexplainable gloom, under "Despondency and Despair," we can learn something from its placement under "Insufficient Interest in Present Circumstances"—as this depressive state can be accompanied by a tendency to disconnect or disengage from the world around.
Other placements are more puzzling. For example, it is hard to understand why Gorse, a remedy for hopelessness resignation and despair, should be under "Uncertainty" rather than "Despondency or Despair." Or why Beech, the remedy for those who are hypercritical and hyper-focused on the faults of others should be under "Over-Care for the Welfare of Others" rather than "Over-Sensitivity to Influences and Ideas."
Bach certainly had a hard task in front of him. Anyone who has tried to improve on Bach's categories will appreciate how hard it is to do in a simple and clear-cut way. Perhaps for this reason—and also to maintain the integrity of Bach's vision—many courses teach the remedies according to the seven groups.
From Theory to Inquiry
All this said, what is one to make of Bach's new taxonomy? Did Bach consider his original 12+7 schema no longer helpful? Had the list of remedies become unwieldy? Was he abandoning the distinction between "type" or constitutional remedies and the helper remedies?
There has been much speculation about the answers to these questions. There has also been much difference of opinion among practitioners regarding the relative usefulness of each taxonomical schema (the 12+7+19 versus the 7 groups) in clinical practice.
The answers to these questions are not entirely clear and we will never know for sure what Bach intended. Like Hahnemann, Bach was continuously revising and expanding his work, and it is likely that it would have continued to evolve had he lived longer. Fundamentalism in Bach flower therapy, as in homeopathy, is not so helpful—whereas open and curious inquiry leads us toward deeper insights.
I encourage you to reflect on all the open questions. Although there is much that Bach has left unsaid, his silence is also a gift. We can use this gift to explore the Truth of the remedies beyond dogmatic propositions, in a way that is deep and authentic.
Explore and see for yourself what is most helpful to you.
To learn more about Bach's journey of discovery and the evolution of his ideas about the remedies, see Nora Weeks's biography, The Medical Discoveries of Edward Bach Physician (1940); Collected Writings of Edward Bach (ed. Julian Barnard, 1987, 2007); and Julian Barnard's excellent scholarly analysis in Bach Flower Remedies: Form and Function (2002).