This is the study of how animals self-medicate with medicinal compounds in the wild. The term is a composite of the Ancient Greek words ‘zoo’ (animal), ‘pharmaco’ (remedy) and ‘gnosy’ (knowing). For historical reasons, the term zoopharmacognosy is typically applied to vertebrates. The word zoopharmacognosy was coined by Dr Eloy Rodriguez, a biochemist at Cornell University.
This is a term that was coined by another group of scientists who studied insect self-medication. Zoopharmacognosy and pharmacophagy essentially mean the same thing.
Ingraham Applied Zoopharmacognosy enables self-medicative behaviour in domesticated or captive animals by offering plant extracts that would contain the same, or similar constituents to those found in an animal’s evolutionary history. The practice encourages and allows an animal to guide its own health, since unlike their wild counterparts, captive and domesticated animals rarely have the opportunity to forage on medical plants. The extracts offered include a variety of essential oils, absolutes, plant extracts, macerated oils, tubers, clays, algae, seaweeds and minerals. Once animals have selected their remedies, they will then guide the session by inhaling them, taking them orally, or by rubbing a part of its body into them. If the condition is allowed to escalate and worsen then more potent remedies will be selected. When the condition has cleared or improved, the animal will normally reject the plant extracts that were previously chosen.
Applied zoopharmacognosy is a practice that allows animals to use their innate ability to select the plant extracts that they need and guide their own dosage to retain and regain health. This innate ability is vital to an animal’s health and well-being. Self-medication is a technique that has been employed by animals since the dawn of time – a good testimonial for the subject. Applied zoopharmacognosy was previously unknown in the human world, until I developed it in the early 1990s.
When animals are allowed to choose their medicine, it can alleviate much unnecessary suffering and save lives, while simultaneously providing us with clues and insights into their needs. Over the decades I have worked to prove that domestication has not interfered with the mechanisms involved in self-medicative behaviours and that it is a mechanism that is hard-wired into all living animals including newborns. I have observed that providing medicinal plants (secondary metabolites) have been in an animal’s evolutionary history, animals can recognize them as medicines, while also being able to regulate their dosage.
Animals have survived through a substantial period of history without our intervention, living among a wide variety of therapeutic and toxic plants. They have evolved to use these plants to aid their survival – any animal that didn’t have this innate mechanism would have died out long ago.
The powerful plant compounds found within many plants have a biological activity that can be both medicinal and toxic in nature. Whether or not such substances end up being toxic or medicinal has a great deal to do with dosage, which is mediated by the individual. Some people may find it easier to comprehend wild animals self-medicating rather than domestic, but there is no difference between the two. It would take tens of thousands of years to lose such an important survival mechanism.
One theory is that animals can only self-medicate through learning. However, this could only be considered with the more complex social animals such as primates and elephants, as the animal would have to be relatively clever to copy self-medicative behaviours. It cannot simply imitate the animal otherwise it would eat the medicinal plant when it was healthy. The animal would have to understand the plant should only be eaten in the context of being sick. Social learning appeared to have not have played a part in the body of research on caterpillars self-medicating. Likewise, in my own research, I have observed newborns and animals with no prior social learning select aromatic plant medicines which bring them back into health, giving support to the innate hypothesis.
After much research it become clear that animal poisonings are with plants and constituents that have not been in an animals evolutionary history, as well as when an animal has not been allowed to regulate their dosage by taste and smell, or in cases of herbivores when they are confined, hungry and can not sequentially select to neutralize toxins.
From the Greek word 'Pharmakon' meaning both medicine and poison Using natures pharmacy This pdf helps to explains the reason why some animals poison themselves on plants and chemicals which would not have been in their evolutionary history.