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Healing with Flowers: An excerpt from Anne McIntyre’s book

Written by Anne McIntyre

Flowers are a particularly loved part of a plant, and many herbalists work with them to heal emotionally and spiritually. Here we share with you some words of wisdom from Anne McIntyre’s most recent book.

The role of flowering plants

By resonating with us at all speeds of vibration, from the spiritual to the material, plants have the potential to heal us on every level of our being. Yet this is not all; something about flowers is particularly special, as if they express the essential nature of all flowering plants and convey their messages to us in all their variation of purpose. They are vital to the plant’s survival and represent the peak of plants’ evolution.

St John’s Wort

The first organisms were single-celled bacteria living in the sea. Then came algae, which are believed to be the ancestors of all other plants, followed by fungi, mosses and lichens. Ferns, taller plants and then trees such as giant horsetails came next, followed about 200 million years ago by plants bearing seeds known as gymnosperms – of which the wonderful ginkgo tree is a living example, as are conifers.

Flowering plants, botanically known as angiosperms, evolved about 140 million years ago, the earliest of them probably resembling a magnolia tree. In botanical terms, a flower represents a reproductive structure made up of modified leaves which attract insects and a variety of other small creatures in order to ensure their cross-fertilisation and reproduction and hence their survival. This was a far more sophisticated means of reproduction than had gone before. The cones of conifers have sperm cells packed tightly in pollen grains relying on the wind to blow them to the ovules of female cones. Spores of fungi and mosses are also vulnerable to the vagaries of the wind. More than 80 per cent of all green plants are flowering plants and every flower has the same purpose, to ensure that male pollen grains from the stamens of one flower come into contact with the stigma of a female pistil.

The intricacies of nature are amazing in their perfection. The stigma produces special secretions making sure that no pollen from other species than its own germinates, and once the right pollen has germinated, it extends a tube into the stigma down its style and makes contact with the ovary below, where two male pollen cells fertilise three female cells. An embryo is thereby produced with a food store wrapped up neatly in a seed capsule and primed to spark into life once it is in favourable conditions.

The beautiful colours and shades of flowers, their enormous variety of shape, size and pattern, as well as their wonderful perfumes, are all developed to attract specific pollinators – insects, birds, moths, beetles, even snails. The evolutionary links between the form, colour, nectar and scent of flowers and the sensory perceptions of their pollinators is truly fascinating. One of the earliest pollinators was the beetle, which crawled into primitive flowers to eat pollen, distributing grains around the area and enabling self-pollination. More evolved species of flowers developed nectar-secreting glands to attract flying insects that would brush against the pollen and so carry it to other flowers.

Flowers with tubular shapes developed simultaneously with those insects and birds with a sucking proboscis or beak sufficiently long to reach the nectar. Some flowers, such as antirrhinums, will only open when the right size pollinator lands on its lower lip. In some flowers, patterns such as lines or spots on the petals, as seen in horse chestnut and eyebright, point the way to the nectar to a hungry insect. Scents wafting through the air will attract pollinating insects from huge distances, as will bright colours to those insects with good sight. Some flowers only emit their scents at night when their colour fades; many, including evening primrose, open only at night to attract night-flying moths.

It is clear that one of the vital roles of flowers is to ensure the continuation of their species and therefore their survival. Flowering plants make up 80 per cent of all plants on the planet, and we as human beings also depend on plants for our survival. Flowers are absolutely essential to all human life. Not only do flowers convey messages to their pollinators, but the early herbalists believed that flowering plants embodied messages regarding their healing virtues in their shape, colour, form and pattern. The delicate drooping blooms of the purple Pasque flower certainly do intimate the sad drooping head of the nymph Anemone, forsaken by her lover, Zephyr the Greek god of the West wind. This points towards the flower’s famous healing powers for women feeling similarly forsaken and forlorn when taken as a homeopathic remedy.

With credit to Julie Bruton-Seal

By contrast, the bright blue, purple and yellow heart-shaped flowers of heartsease have a much more uplifting nature, with their ability to heal the heart and lift the spirits. Heartsease has been used by healers for thousands of years as a love potion and to bring comfort to those feeling hurt, rejected, lonely or broken hearted as Shakespeare well knew,

Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower, Before, milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness
– Midsummers Night’s Dream

The healing potential of flowering plants is an integral part of the deep bond that exists between humans and nature. That flowers have the ability to heal us, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually, is something that has been recognised and utilised as far back as we know. Now in the 21st century with evidence of the healing role of flowers going back 60,000 years, we are still striving to understand the totality of their significance in our lives.

Flowers have been used in many different ways for healing, in a variety of herbal preparations, as essential oils, homeopathic remedies and flower essences. Each system of medicine claims a certain mode of action or vibrational level of healing for its own. One thing is clear to me from the flowers’ history of healing: the essence of the flower that permeates every remedy has the same healing potential that permeates the essence of our being.

I am a Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, a Member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy, and a Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners’ Association. I have been in clinical practice working as a medical herbalist for nearly years and for the last 30 years have incorporated Ayurvedic philosophy and medicine into my practice, producing an integrated approach to the care of patients and prescription of herbs.

I run a busy practice in Gloucestershire, and lecture widely on herbal medicine and Ayurveda in the UK and USA. I run courses from my home in Gloucestershire where I tend to my beautiful herb garden which is open to the general public by appointment. I also offer online courses in Ayurveda for lay people and other professionals.

Anne McIntyre

I am a Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, a Member of the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy, and a Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners’ Association. I have been in clinical practice working as a medical herbalist for nearly years and for the last 30 years have incorporated Ayurvedic philosophy and medicine into my practice, producing an integrated approach to the care of patients and prescription of herbs.

I run a busy practice in Gloucestershire, and lecture widely on herbal medicine and Ayurveda in the UK and USA. I run courses from my home in Gloucestershire where I tend to my beautiful herb garden which is open to the general public by appointment. I also offer online courses in Ayurveda for lay people and other professionals.

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