Sitting upright with gently clasped braids holding back her chestnut hair, Asia Suler is the quintessential medicine woman. She speaks passionately about the subject of plant medicine, specifically the history and usage of flower essences.
“We’re suffering from the belief that we’re just physical beings,” says Suler, sitting on a Victorian chair covered in floral fabric, golden afternoon rays of sunlight streaming in through the giant glass windows in her Marshall studio. Though it’s the middle of winter, the room is full of a steady warmth — and it’s unclear whether this warmth is radiating from the old wall heaters or Suler herself.
“I think we’re at a period of time where people are opening up to alternative ways of healing,” she says. “Especially people who have been continually failed and dissatisfied by the Western medical model.”
During her late 20s, Suler was one of those people, living in New York City and suffering from chronic pain with no direct answers or resolutions from modern medicine. It was around that time, she says, that a book on natural healing and flower essences made its way into her lap. “It opened me to magic, to bringing back my connection to the unseen world and, ultimately, to my capacity to heal myself,” she recalls.
Layers of healing
Flower essence practitioners believe that the body is constantly communicating and offering information. At the heart of the method is the belief that “physical issues can point back to emotional and spiritual issues,” says Suler. Through this lens, physical ailments such as a cold or back pain can be traced back to deep emotional triggers, she continues, with flower essences being the panacea for releasing the underlying emotional weight or spiritual disease.
Daisy Marquis, who is a flower essence and energy healing practitioner as well as an instructor of subtle herbalism and flower essences for the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism, offers this explanation: “Say we are experiencing something within ourselves as discordant, such as anger that feels excessive or harmful, or perhaps a selfishness that doesn’t honor the other people in our lives. The subtle influence of the plant, carried by the water within the remedy, gently brings us back to a more harmonious way of relating internally and externally through a kind of resonant entrainment.” As someone who works in the field of energy medicine, Marquis says she often tends to relate to life through that lens, seeing how things affect our energy body. In her eyes, “flower essences modulate our own frequency.”
Suler echoes Marquis’ description. “Flower essences get to the why — the reasoning behind the imbalances that we experience in life,” she says. “The body communication starts very subtle, maybe as a feeling, a dream, a thought about not liking your boss or job, and then gets less and less subtle if we don’t listen, until maybe it’s a pain in your neck.”
And, according to Lorin Purifoy, owner of Purifoy Flower Essences, “It all starts on the emotional and energetic levels and then moves into the physical realm until the physical is a representation of the internal.”
Tiny drops, copious change
Leaning back in her chair, Suler describes the process that flower essences initiate. “Imagine that you have locked away all your ugly emotional issues deep within,” she says. “Then the entryway into opening and releasing those issues is going to be very small, so you’ll need something small enough to slip through the keyhole and start to break down the wall of those emotional imbalances that have been hidden away by lock and key. And flower essences can do that.”
How small? According to Suler, flower essences are a “highly dilute medicine, similar to homeopathics.” Unlike herbal tinctures, which work specifically on a physical part of the body (such as the respiratory or circulatory systems), flower essences work on the energetic body, she notes. Marquis describes flower essences as “vibrational remedies, meaning they contain no measurable chemical constituency of the plant but, instead, carry the life force.”
All three practitioners agree that flower essences are most effective when taken over time. They often work “in a very slow and integrative way,” says Marquis. “Though, occasionally, they catalyze a sudden dawning of understanding that can feel intense, in the same way that becoming aware of parts of ourselves that we have wanted to deny exist can be uncomfortable.”
Subtlety in an analytical age
To some, the idea of life force may seem foreign, hard to grasp and even immeasurable. Marquis isn’t surprised. “We have not had a shared language in our culture for the subtler aspects of life,” she says. “And we have a medical paradigm that completely disregards the reality of life force, which you could also call spirit. … This [paradigm] has shaped our collective understanding of the nature of not only health and healing but of life itself. At times, I have felt like proficiency in this subtle work is the most important thing for the world at large today.”
To healers like Marquis, Suler and Purifoy, the scientific immeasurability of life force doesn’t negate its reality. Even a brief study of indigenous cultures around the world finds an awareness of, and references to, the idea of life force known by many names, including chi, prana, ruach or spirit.
“We’re conditioned not to believe in magic anymore, and I think that’s sad because that’s the realm I work in,” Purifoy says. “I don’t need the science to believe in something, but some people do.” Suler says she is primarily focused on building a bridge between science and spirit. “I’m interested in bringing back that connection to spirit and the unseen world,” she says. “To do so is to bring back our ancestral knowing and reclaiming our history as human beings.”
In shamanism, the divorce between the unseen world and the physical world is referred to as soul sickness, she continues. In this view, modern-day ailments such as depression and anxiety “are considered to be results of the invalidation of the multidimensionality and complexity of our being,” she adds.
“Sometimes I hear people in Asheville refer to believing in the spirit world as ‘wu,'” she says. The term means “shaman” in Chinese, she explains, and has been traced back to its first use during the Shang dynasty circa 1600 B.C. to describe the healers, medicine people and spirit mediums present in the culture at the time. “Unfortunately, the term ‘wu’ has become bastardized in the same way the word ‘witch’ has,” Suler notes.
Intuition, invention and reverence
“Anyone can make a flower essence, as far as putting a flower in a bowl of water and waiting over the course of a day,” Purifoy says. “But is that essence going to be as powerful as when you ask permission and invoke love and gratitude for the plant and place where you are making the medicine? Whenever we come from a place of reverence in making medicine, it just makes it all the more powerful.”
Marquis agrees: “The depth of relationship that the practitioner or remedy-maker has with the plant greatly affects the potency of the final product.” A longtime practitioner of meditation, she says that practice is “one of the most important tools in developing the inner listening and the sensitivity that allows for the reception of communication from the plants and from the client’s energy body.” She believes learning to be subtle and aware of the emotional shifts that are happening in and throughout the body is important in the healing process.
Whether you believe in the energy body and the vibrational claims of such medicine is of little or no consequence, according to Marquis. “Plants have their own intelligence, presence and ability to go where needed. Sometimes, whether we consciously realize it or not,” she says. “In other words, plant medicine is effective whether we believe it will be or not, and whether or not we understand what it is that plants are capable of. The teaching of the plants is the teaching of the inner nature of life itself.”
Suler recommends that anyone interested in making their own flower essences just jump in. “Let yourself play with it. Be open, and it can be such a healing practice,” she says encouragingly. “The flower is also the ultimate manifestation of a plant in the world, its completion and the fulfillment of its destiny. When we take in that medicine, it helps us open to the manifestation of fullness and wholeness in our lives.”
UPCOMING FLOWER ESSENCES CLASSES & COURSES:
Subtle Herbalism with Daisy Marquis: Tuesdays, Jan. 19-June 14, 9:30am-3:30 pm, Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism
Flower Essence Certification with Daisy Marquis: five weekends, March-July, Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism
Plant and Stone Alchemy with Asia Suler: Feb. 28, 5-8 pm, 115 Blannahassett Island, Marshall, $30
Plant Spirit Circle with Lorin Purifoy: April 16, 7-8 pm, Asheville Salt Cave