Medicine created in the Middle Ages is effective against modern-day infections

Hyperaxion Jul 30, 2020

The solution made of onions, garlic, wine and bile salts is at least 1,000 years old and has proved effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a new study.

What do you think when someone talks about the Middle Ages? Your answer is probably associated with diseases (such as bubonic plague), poor hygiene, the Church, and scientific ignorance (it is no wonder that the period is known as the “Dark Ages”).

Medicine created in the Middle Ages is effective against modern-day infections
Medicine recreated in the laboratory. (Credit: University of Warwick).

The fact is that the perception we have today of that time is not entirely accurate – and new research conducted by the University of Warwick in England, supports the idea that our ancestors were far from ignorant.

In an article published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists say they have recreated a medieval remedy known as “Bald’s eyesalve” and it has shown promising antibacterial activity. The “potion” is at least 1,000 years old and contains onion, garlic, wine, and bile salts.

The researchers tested the mixture in planktonic bacterial cultures with several types of microorganisms and found that the remedy was effective against several of them, including some more resistant types, such as Staphylococcus and Streptococcus.

In addition, the solution was able to control biofilms (organized bacterial colonies), which is an important feature in a potent antibacterial drug.

“Bald’s eyesalve underlines the significance of medical treatment throughout the ages,” said Christina Lee, co-author of the study, in a statement. “It shows that people in Early Medieval England had at least some effective remedies.”

The medicine's recipe was found in a medieval book.
The medicine’s recipe was found in a medieval book. (Credit: The British Library Board).

One of the most powerful ingredients in the mixture is garlic, as it contains allicin, a potent antibacterial compound. The researchers hope the discovery will help in the development of new antibacterial drugs, especially against antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.

“Most antibiotics that we use today are derived from natural compounds, but our work highlights the need to explore not only single compounds but mixtures of natural products for treating biofilm infections,” said Freya Harrison, co-author of the study. “We think this combination could suggest new treatments for infected wounds, such as diabetic foot and leg ulcers.”

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