Natural Horse World

Applied Zoopharmacognosy

Applied Zoopharmacognosy and Horses
The first thing most people ask is how to pronounce Zoopharmacognosy quickly followed by what does it mean. The word is a composite of the ancient Greek words for animal (zoo), medicine (pharma) and knowing (cognosy). The term refers to the process by which animals self medicate in the wild. It is a behavioural science.

The practice of Applied Zoopharmacognosy for animals has since been pioneered by the groundbreaking work of Caroline Ingraham. It refers to the work by trained Ingraham professional practitioners such as myself applying the principles of self selection when working with animals in a domestic or captive environment. In such an environment they may not be able to self medicate effectively due to lack of therapeutic plants.


A trained Ingraham practitioner works by offering a range of plant extracts, such as essential oils and herbal extracts to animals to enable them to self select the remedy appropriate to their needs taking into account the species and condition. This allows them the opportunity to self medicate as they would have done in the wild. As well as case studies and practicals, a practitioner is also trained in the science of essential oils and pharmacology of the remedies.

Because horses are natural foragers and have a greater variety of plants to forage, they have metabolic pathways which enable them to process and breakdown the secondary metabolites found in medicinal plants through their systems quickly. The therapeutic parts of essential oils and herbs are mainly classed as secondary metabolites. In other words horses are used to being able to detoxify most plants they forage and they can therefore break down most essential oils fairly rapidly.

Applied Zoopharmacognosy can be particulary effective for horses and enables a horse to self heal, not only by promoting the healing of physical ailments but the remedies chosen can also help release emotional trauma, as well as alleviating stress and eliminating vices. Some essential oils work in a synergistic fashion and can help heal both physical wounds as well as emotional, such as Yarrow Essential Oil (Achillea Millefolium). As well as being a stong anti inflammatory and anti histamic, this oil can also have a powerful effect on behaviour and emotional issues when chosen. Yarrow is often a favourite with horses and it is interesting to note that it was once used extensively to treat the wounds of both horse and human in the battlefileds of old. Perhaps horses have an inbuit recognition of the oil.

I have worked with many horses and it never ceases to amaze me how they intinctively know what is right for them. When working with horses it is not unusual to get the attention of the other horses in the herd, even if you have penned them off (which is recommended so you don’t get mugged for your rose hip shells – which I have found is another horsey favourite). This scenario happened to me whilst working with a horse in the South of France in a round pen. No sooner was I half way through the session than his friend Molly, a mule, stuck her head over the pen. She was really interested in Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula Officinalis), at first this interest baffled me but then I noticed she had a small open wound on her poll which the care giver thought was possibly from sweet itch (NB. A zoopharmacognosist does not diagnose). We therefore packed the wound with green clay powder (a great wound powder/poultice) mixed with a bit of Lavender Oil and by morning the wound had healed. Lavender has been used as a disinfectant throughout the years in hospital wards, and from a zoopharmacognosy viewpoint this oil not only stimulates the regeneration of skin tisues, but also works well as an insect repellant and wound disinfectant. It does not suprise me that Molly knew what she wanted, what does suprise me is that I never cease to be in awe of an animals innate ability to heal themselves, even though I have witnessed it it many times in my work.

Another horse I worked with in Sussex UK, a 29 year old Irish Cob named Seamus was very run down, a bit stiff and and possibly arthritic, and his care giver was rightly concerned. Seamus selected the following:
Yarrow (anti inflammatory,anti histamine, cell regenerating and analgesic)
German Chamomile (antihistaminic/anti inflammatory)
Licorice Root (anti inflammatory)
Rosehip Shells (supports immune function, cell regeneration, collagen damage, arthritis)
Peppermint (anti inflammatory/nerve damage).
After a few days he no longer selected the oils or rose hip shells and the care giver was delighted with his turnaround. The next time she rode him she could not believe the difference. He was like a young horse again.

Once an animal has selected its range of preferred oils or remedies, which can range from one to several, the animal’s care giver can then continue to offer the oils as long as the animal continues to select them. In the case of Molly the Mule, she only needed the oil for the wound, and has since not selected Lavender again. For other animals with other ailments they may continue to select their remedies for longer periods until no longer required; the animal always guides you. Another point to add is that although an animal may display similar ailments, this does not necessarilly mean they will select the same remedy. Never assume. Each animal is unique.

The key with Applied Zoopharmacognosy is that the animal must always be offered the remedy for self selection. It is important that the animal is able to chose the route of administration (inhalation, ingestion, sublingual, or topically for wounds) and dosage. A remedy must never be forced on an animal or put in its feed. Not to be confused with aromatherpay, a trained practitioner does not diagnose, dose, treat or prescribe.
Note: Self medication only works if the animal has the choice not to select the remedy. Never put secondary compounds in feed. Not to be confused with Aromatherapy; Zoopharmacognosy works on ethological observations rather than medical diagnoses.

For more information please visit my website <a href=””></a>. To train as a practitioner please visit <a href=””></a>
Eleanor Goold, Star & Ruby Animal Therapy
Diploma in Applied Zoopharmacogonosy (Equine & Small Animals), Diploma in Canine Massage Therapy.

2 thoughts on “Applied Zoopharmacognosy”

  1. Elaine Fridlund-Horne

    Looking for herbal remedy for horses suffering from EPM

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