by David Rabiner, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
In the last month, several subscribers have contacted me to ask whether I was aware of a study on the use of oral flower essences as a treatment for ADHD. They both indicated that they had heard about such a study, in which a placebo-controlled trial of oral flower essences were found to be an effective treatment.
I was able to locate this study and thought you would want to know about it. The study in question was published as a letter to the editor in the August 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In this pilot study, 10 5-12-year-old children with ADHD who had been admitted to the partial hospitalization at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center (these must have been severe cases with other problems as well to warrant partial hospitalization) were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or an oral flower essence known as "rescue remedy" or "calming essence" in addition to their regularly administered stimulant medication. Parents completed a standardized measure of ADHD symptoms - the Child Attention Problems Scale - and a measure of functional impairment before treatment began, 3 weeks after treatment started, and a final time 3 months after treatment started.
At the end of the follow-up period, 3 of the 5 children in the placebo group had moved to inpatient hospitalization while 3 of 5 children who had received the flower essence were off medication and functioning well. Outcomes for the other 2 children in each group were in an intermediate range. In addition, children who received the flower essence treatment had significantly lower scores on the CAP at both the 3-week and 3-month follow-up assessment.
These are certainly interesting results, and the fact that the study used a placebo-controlled design in which parents were blind to the treatment their child received is certainly a strength.
On the other hand, it is very important to emphasize that a study that involves only 10 children is clearly a pilot investigation and precludes any definitive statement about the efficacy of this treatment approach. Although the 10 children in this study were randomly assigned to receive either oral flower essence or placebo, with so few participants, random assignment frequently does not succeed in eliminating differences between groups prior to treatment. In fact, in this investigation, there was some indication that children assigned to receive the flower essence treatment had less severe symptoms than placebo treated children at baseline.
Results from this initial pilot study are interesting, and support the value of conducting a larger controlled trial of oral flower essence treatment. Until such a study is conducted, however, it would seem wise not to over interpret the meaning of these results.