Plants for Nutrients and Medicine
When I was a secondary science teacher I used to say to my year seven students that green plants can make their own food just by sunbathing – how cool are they! We as animals can not do this, so rely on plants (or animals that eat plants for their food). My favourite response was probably “The Incredible Hulk is green…so can he photosynthesise?”
Plant’s primary metabolites are known as nutrients e.g. carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals because they are essential for life. Good nutrition is needed for movement, growth and repair; to maintain health and survival. In addition to primary metabolites or nutrients, plants also produce secondary compounds thought to be for protection or defence against disease and predators. Secondary compounds are also useful to animals for medicinal purposes. Animals have an innate ability to select plant medicines to maintain harmony within their bodies.
“Wild Health is a dynamic interaction of physiology, behaviour & the environment, and it is the constant attention to well-being missing in industrial society, as well as in our management of animals in our care” – Dr Cindy Engel, Author of Wild Health
What is Self Selection for Animals?
The offering of essential oils, macerated oils, aromatic waters & clays to animals, which I sometimes refer to as Essential Oil Therapy. Essential oils are concentrated secondary compounds obtained by distillation and expression processes; aromatic waters by distillation, absolutes by solvent extraction and macerates and tinctures by maceration. Secondary compounds are powerful drugs that alter biological processes therefore can be beneficial if needed but poisonous if they are not. For safety reasons always consult a properly qualified practitioner or have some training yourself. The composition of any essential oil varies depending on variables such as seasons, locations, farming techniques, soil management and climate. In addition to plants, non-living matter such as soils and clays can be medicinal.
Like wild species, domesticated animals still have an innate ability for selecting nutrients and medicine to maintain their health; for example you may have observed the eating of grass (by species that don’t normally eat grass for a living) soils or drinking old rainwater. Domesticated species do not have the wealth of plant species they would have access to if they lived wild, so Essential Oil Therapy aims to provide environmental enrichment to bridge this gap to support optimal health and also support recovery from dis-ease.
Although there are limited scientific studies on plants, there are efforts in certain fields to address this situation such as pharmacognosy (medicinal uses of plants) and zoopharmacognosy (animal selection of medicinal plants).
How does Essential Oil Therapy work?
To explain how it works, we need to look at pharmacology (the study of drugs). There are two main areas of pharmacology: how the body affects the drug (pharmacokinetics) and how the drug affects the body (pharmacodynamics). With the latter, there are three mode of action within the body:
There are four methods of ‘delivery’:
Inhaled secondary compounds are picked up by neurons (nerve cells) in the olfactory system and transmitted to the limbic system (brain) which can have immediate effects on behaviour. Compounds are then absorbed through the cellular membrane and transported throughout the body via the circulatory system as they are in topical application – which can target organs lying under the skin.
Oral administration involves drug transportation through the digestive system and will pass through the liver which breaks down poisons/drugs and the strong acidity of the stomach, which can alter the chemical formation of drugs.
Sublingual administration involves absorption through oral membranes into the circulatory system and avoids hepatic first-pass metabolism of the liver.
Topically, can be chosen by the animal. Animals often roll on plants and other material themselves. I have observed animals placing parts of their body towards hands that have oils on them. I use my hands to make up green clay with oils selected by the animal for their healing, asked if I can put it on their wounds, and observed the animal continuing to inhale or lick the clay from my hands.
What is a Secondary Compound?
Plants are autotrophs (self feeders). Two main primary metabolic processes used by green plants are photosynthesis and respiration. In addition to primary, plants also synthesise secondary compounds or phytochemicals which are toxic or medicinal in nature. Plants are unique in displaying ‘secondary’ metabolism. A widely accepted theory of why they do this is for defence and survival due to their limited movement. Additionally, it is thought that secondary metabolism starts when primary metabolism is threatened. Animals (hetertrophs) can not synthesise seondary chemicals and it has been observed in the wild that animal health is dependant on plant chemistry.
Analytical chemistry has aided our understanding of plants as drugs and their components can be categorised into: Monoterpenes, esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, oxides –each group has a known therapeutic actions and safety implications e.g. Alcohols are generally antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and stimulating and low in toxicity. Whilst phenols stimulate the nervous and immune systems but must by used in low concentrations and for a limited time frame as they can by toxic to the liver and cause skin irritation.
Self Selection for Animal Owners (Equine and Canine) Level I and II
Level I suitable for equine and canine owners who wish to learn more about a selection of essential oils commonly self selected by equines for common issues. Covering the safety aspects of oils, oil quality, environmental considerations, and the UK law. How to offer the oils, and behavioural responses with practical learning with equines. Alongside the oils, learn about clays, carrier oils and dried remedies. Level II follows on from Level I, and introduces kinesiology along with further oils. See Events for more details.
Self Selection for Cat Owners and Herbal Cat Toy workshop
Suitable for cat owners who wish to learn more about a selection of herbs self selected by cats for common issues. Covering the safety aspects herbs, environmental considerations, the UK law, how to offer herbs with different personalities and behavioural responses. You will make your own herbal cat bags/toys to take home to your cat(s). See Events for more details.