Modern medicine has faced a challenge when it comes to dealing with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, like MRSA — but it turns out that a thousand-year-old mixture works quite well on so-called superbugs.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a strain of antibiotic resistant-bacteria that causes infections in humans and often leads to death. Since 2005, hospitalization rates have more than doubled according to the CDC and it’s been declared a national priority.
Turns out the cure is somewhat simple. Dr. Christina Lee is an Anglo-Saxon expert from the School of English at the University of Nottingham, and she consulted an ancient volume titled Bald’s Leechbook, which is kept at the British Library. She translated a potion for eye infections, written in Old English, which was selected because it seemed to be easy enough to replicate, and even though it had very specific instructions for ingredients and brewing, the combination of components and how they were mixed together seems to be the key to its success.
The ingredients? They’re pretty gross — but they’re also pretty effective. It calls for two species of Allium (garlic and either onion or leek), bile from a cow’s stomach and wine. Instructions go on to say they should be mixed in a brass vessel, left to stew for nine days and then strained to purify the mixture.
They tested the ancient potion in various laboratory settings. When the ingredients were tested individually, there were little to no effects. When the recipe was created as instructed and then tested, however, that result changed.
The researchers admitted that they were not expecting great results, but they were astonished at what ultimately transpired in their lab. “We were going from a mature, established population of a few billion cells, all stuck together in this highly protected biofilm coat, to really just a few thousand cells left alive,” microbioligist Freya Harrison said in the university’s video posted with the press release. “This is a massive, massive killing ability.”
Further tests were run in the U.S., and researchers say that in mouse models, the ancient recipe performed as well as or better than modern antibiotics.
More funding is being sought to carry out further research to see if this medieval recipe can have any application in the field of modern medicine. As Lee says, it was a recipe known back in the day as the “best of leechdoms,” so it’s interesting to note that medieval practitioners had successfully hypothesized and experimented with different compounds and got great results with them — results so great that they work on modern bugs a thousand years later.