By Carly Hillier
Zoopharmacognosy - now, that’s a word you won’t see on the back of a Cornflakes packet when you sit down to breakfast. Whilst a bit of a mouthful, broken down the word translates as animals (zoo) + drugs (pharma) + cognitive knowing (cognosy), and describes the process by which animals self-medicate in the wild on plants, clays, algae and insects in order to restore and maintain health. Extensive studies have shown us that chimpanzees select certain plants as de-wormers, feral New Forest ponies chew charred furze bushes to detoxify, and elephants trek miles to mine for ancient sub-soils containing clay.
Given the opportunity, the domesticated horse will also employ this innate ability in order to restore and maintain health. Here at Whitethorn Equine Health, Ireland, this is our area of expertise, having helped many horses restore emotional and physical health by providing them access to medicinal plants in varying types of preparation. We offer - they select. This method of ‘offering and selecting’ is called Applied Zoopharmacognosy, and is becoming more commonplace in the equine industry as owners, trainers, breeders and professionals are experiencing the benefits of this new science. In fact, you may well see it on the back of the cornflakes packet sooner than you think!
So how can we use this innate ability to help our horses?