Let’s start today’s blog with a riddle of sorts. What do the vegetables leek and garlic have in common with wine and cow bile? The obvious answer is “nothing” but a more subtle answer is “apparently everything” when the question is properly framed as, “What does a medieval recipe of botanicals made into a slimy medicinal concoction cure?”
For centuries, scientists have turned to botanical sources to find cures for human ailments: foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) for heart disease, Ipecac (Carapichea ipecacuanha) to suppress coughs and induce vomiting, artemisinin (Artemisia annua) as an antimalarial, as well as a long list of others.
One of the more challenging problems facing medical science today is the increased resistance of certain bacteria to antibiotics, particularly the troubling Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which I have written about in previous blogs (here, here and here).
Recent articles suggest that scientists are reaching out again to botanicals for answers and have stumbled across a medieval potion that appears to be effective against these stubborn bacteria.
The ancient concoction is described as follows for treating styes (eyelash follicle infections):
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 (and garlic mixture), 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 into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather to the eye.
Styes are difficult-to-treat Staph aureus infections and modern researchers, after discovering the formula for this potent remedy, decided to test it on lab-generated MRSA infections.
The research program is called The AncientBiotics Project and the process involved growing contaminated biofilm that mimics soft tissue MRSA infections and culturing the bacteria. Additional tests were conducted on rats infected with MRSA. The hyperlink to the project’s name in this paragraph contains an interesting seven-minute video of the research work.
It was confirmed that no individual ingredient in the potion had a beneficial effect on the MRSA, but the COMBINED liquid potion—when properly prepared—killed almost all the bacteria, achieving a kill rate of approximately 90%. By comparison, the kill rate for Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA infections, eliminated about the SAME proportion of bacteria when added to the contaminated biofilm.
Although amazed at the initial results, scientists were skeptical until the results could be duplicated time and again. After preparing four batches of the ancient remedy, each test of the different batches produced similar stunning kill rates.
As astounded as these researchers were at such positive test results, they began to question the “Why” of their success. Could similar effects be achieved with a more dilute mixture? The answer was “No” but they discovered that more dilute concentrations of the potion still interrupted bacterial communications and this prevented the bacteria from acting on and damaging tissue.
The next questions addressed were: 1) could a specific ingredient work as well as the concoction, 2) was it the synergy of the ingredients that produced the phenomenal results, or 3) did the recipe preparation actually form a new molecule or compound that became the killing machine?
Regarding the one ingredient theory, only copper from the brass mixing vessel is known to kill lab-grown bacteria, but copper can be toxic to the body.
As to the theories whether the synergy of ingredients produces the beneficial effects or if a new antibiotic compound is formed in the preparation process, these questions are likely the next steps to be addressed in the research process.
The research continues on this interesting ancient remedy, but scientists are so encouraged by their test results that the research has been presented at this year’s Annual Conference of The Society for General Microbiology held this month in Birmingham, UK.
As modern medical science moves forward in search of new, innovative treatments for diseases, we might be reminded that some cures are already discovered. They’ve merely been forgotten or tossed aside as out-of-date.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!