Eden Research, employing only five people in a former vicarage in the tiny village of South Leigh, near Witney — the home of deputy chairman Ken Brooks, one of the founders of Witney law firm Brook Street Des Roches — is pioneering technology that exploits naturally occurring defence mechanisms found in plants.

It is a minnow swimming in a sea of huge fish — and apparently winning the race as it aims to create environmentally-friendly pest killers.

So far the AIM-listed company, with a stock market valuation of about £10m, has invested £5m over seven years.

Last year it achieved EU approval for its active substances, known as 3AEY, and later this year expects to win its first country approval for a specific product, designed to fight the disease botrytis in grapevines, with further country approvals following in 2015.

Finance director Alex Abrey said: “It has taken twice as long and cost twice as much as we expected but 2013 was a key year for us. Most companies in this area are big, but keeping overheads low helps the bottom line.”

But what is this innovative and green idea, the potential rewards of which have concentrated the minds of investors and directors of Eden Research for so long?

It is to encapsulate essential plant oils — natural chemicals called terpenes — inside yeast cells in such a way that their disease-fighting ability is reawakened by morning dew or rainfall.

All plants contain fighting qualities — such as thorns on roses or stinging hairs on nettles — but the trick here is to identify fighting fragrances that protect specific plants against pests and to prolong their effectiveness.

Now Eden Research, named poetically enough after the Biblical garden of paradise, hopes to see its products packaged in the form of conventional farm sprays and distributed by giant agro-chemical companies.

Mr Abrey said: “We are not doing any manufacturing or distribution. That is being done by our partners using our technology.”

The terpines Eden has encapsulated include thymol, extracted from thyme, eugenol, from cloves, and gruniol, from roses.

Its research trials, conducted in greenhouse and field, indicate terpines can prevent or reduce the impact of a variety of diseases and pests that are currently tackled by methods that some scientists consider to be either environmentally unfriendly, or of limited effectiveness, or both.

The intellectual property Eden Research now has under its belt is inherent in the EU approval of the active substance.

The approval means Eden’s active substances are listed as safe on the European Food Safety Authority’s Annex 1 — the list of active substances approved for pesticidal use in pesticidal products .

This is coupled with the patented technology, now branded GO-E, which Eden acquired from US scientist Prof Gary Ostroff, who had perfected the technique of using yeast cells as carriers.

When sprayed onto a target the terpines diffuse out of the yeast carrier with the addition of moisture from dew, rain or mist — in other words, in exactly the conditions when fungal or bacterial growth might otherwise appear.

The carrier particles then dry onto the target but reactivate themselves when dampened. The same effect is achieved in soil when the active ingredients are applied, again using the yeast carrier, by way of a soil drench or irrigation system.

The clever system could soon be applied to plants, including cucumbers and strawberries, to kill the disease-bearing worms called nematodes and other harmful microbes.

Research indicates terpines could also be used to kill spider mites in glasshouses and combat foliar and soil-borne bacterial diseases.

Nor do the exciting possibilities stop with agrochemical uses. The safe, natural product could in future be used in medicine for wound healing and in dentistry for oral hygiene and health, or in the food industry for food flavouring.

Then there are possible cosmetic uses since the product stabilises fragrances and could possibly, one day, be used for making perfumes retain their fragrance for longer.

Mr Abrey said: “There is massive potential but in 2004 we took the decision to focus on agrichemicals.”

The company’s history dates back to 1996 when it began life as a firm called Energiser which aimed to develop a phytoestrogen treatment for cancer.

It subsequently changed its name to Ximed Group and began research into terpene chemistry. In late 2003 it merged with Eden Research, an American company operating in similar fields and was renamed Eden Research.

Mr Abrey added: “We are already receiving licence fees by selling our technology and will receive three to five per cent royalties as products come on stream."

Interestingly, given Eden has decided to concentrate on the agri business, an early user of the terpines is expected to be Teva Animal Health, owned by life science giant Bayer, which is developing a dog shampoo with a flea and tick treatment to follow.

The company has also announced a licence agreement with Neo-Pharma Innovations for a head lice product. And an odour neutraliser using Eden’s encapsulation technology is now on sale in France, marketed by a firm called TerpineTech Revenues to date have been modest (£80,000 in 2013, up from £40,000 in 2012).

But chairman Tom Lupton said: “With the significant EU regulatory hurdle having been surmounted, national product approvals just around the corner and product sales already underway, I am very optimistic Eden has a bright future and that all of the hard work and significant investment is now coming to fruition. “ Mr Lupton took over the job of non-executive chairman of Eden Research last month from Sir Ben Gill, former president of the National Farmers’ Union, who died last month. Managing director Clive Newitt has spent more than 30 years in the agrochemical industry. He is now employed by Eden for 20 hours a week.

It may be a small company but many of its 2,000 shareholders believe it has a great future, making it one to watch.