What is the Difference Between a Flower Essence and an Essential Oil?

Posted on: June 6th, 2011 by
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Clematis is used as an essence in Bach Flower Therapy, istockphoto, used with permission

Clematis is used as an essence in Bach Flower Therapy, istockphoto, used with permission

When is an essential oil not an essential oil?  This sounds a bit like a conundrum but in reality the term essential oil is often misused and confused in every day language and in the aromatherapy industry.  I have written a couple of posts/articles previously on the subject of essential oils, fragrance oils and hydrosols, and the confusion that often exists between those terms and products, but recently I have heard the phrase essence being bandied around a lot to described an essential oil.  In technical terms, an essence is not an essential oil and an essential oil is not an essence, although both have valuable uses in their own right.

Origins of  Flower Essences

Essences are commonly described as flower essences, although they may be extracted from trees and other plants too.  I think the most well-known name associated with essences in recent history is English physician Dr Edward Bach (1886 – 1936) who came up with what are now known as The Twelve Healers (Impatiens, Mimulus, Clematis, Agrimony, Chicory, Vervain, Centaury, Cerato, Scleranthus, Water Violet, Gentain and Rock Rose); this led to further discovery and use of other plant essences.  However, Dr Bach did not exclusively “discover” essences as several ancient cultures have used plant essences in the past, perhaps leading to the confusion in written history between the use of essences and early distillations of “essential oils.”

Difference Between an Essence and an Essential Oil

Put simply, essences concentrate on the vibrational energy of the plant, rather than the physical properties of an actual oil extract (as in the case of essential oils), in recognition of the strong connection between spiritual (emotional) health and physical health.  The plants and flowers used in essence therapy are often different to those used in the practice of essential oils.  In addition, essences do not have a fragrance or flavor, unlike an essential oil.  Essence are usually in a water and alcohol form; true essential oils are not diluted in this way.  Essence therapy merits further study than the limitations of this post allow.

So you might think that the factor of emotional health should be disregarded in the use of essential oils; in fact, many essential oils are used in this way, but with regard to the physical characteristics of the oil extract too. To clarify the point, essences exclusively harness the vibrational energy of a plant and are not “extracted” physically like an essential oil.

Some aromatherapy practitioners prefer to describe essential oils as essences, particularly if they are focused on the emotional and spiritual factors. However, the interchangeable use of the word essence with the word essential oil often leads to confusion between the two therapies, particularly to those who are not that familiar with either therapy. It is actually more beneficial (and correct) to describe essential oils by their true name, and not a name that actually refers to another form of therapy, in order that we all know what we are actually talking about!  Some may disagree with this, and may be well meaning in their description, but essential oils are in fact a different substance to essences.


  • Scheffer Mechthild, 2001, The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy
  • Price, Shirley, 2000, Aromatherapy Workbook
  • Author has taken the level 1 Certificate in Bach Flower Therapy

Footnote: Further interviews with professional aromatherapists will follow soon; I have been remiss in requesting new interviews due to a very busy schedule recently!

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