Fearful Symmetries

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01 April, 2015

Medieval Salve Kills Antibiotic Bacteria



Perhaps the Dark Ages aren't as dark as generally thought.

Researchers have discovered that a medieval salve for eye infections is very effective against some nasty strains of bacteria which laugh at futile attempts to kill them with antibiotics. The recipe was taken from the above "Bald's Leechbook". I presume that none of the researchers knew Old English which means that a medievalist of some stripe at some point had to translate. Score one for liberal arts majors!

But researchers recently found that a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon treatment for eye infections works as an antibiotic against one of today’s most notorious bacteria, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The British researchers will present their findings this week at an annual microbiology conference held in the United Kingdom.

Christina Lee, a professor in Viking studies at the University of Nottingham, translated the recipe from the Old English in Bald’s Leechbook, which was written in the 9th century and is one of the earliest known medical textbooks. The researchers prepared four batches of the recipe, which called for two species of garlic and onions, wine, and bile from a cow’s stomach brewed in a brass cauldron and let sit for nine days before use.

take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks’ gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.

The researchers tested the concoction on cultures of MRSA bacteria in synthetic wounds as well as in rats. No individual ingredient had no effect on the cultures, but the combined liquid killed almost all the cells; only about one in 1,000 bacteria survived. At more dilute concentrations, the salve didn’t kill the bacteria, but still interrupted their communication, preventing them from damaging tissues.

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|| Palmer, 3:08 PM

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