Medieval Recipe Shown to Kill MRSA

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Medieval Recipe Shown to Kill MRSA

An old cure for a new scourge

By Working Nurse
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The growing plague of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA — scourge of infectious disease workers and patients alike — may have met its match in an unexpected and ancient place.


Microbiologists at the University of Nottingham recreated a 10th-century concoction of garlic, leeks and bile salts, originally intended as a salve for eye infections. The scientists were astounded to discover that it was a highly effective antibacterial agent — even against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

The 1,000-year-old recipe was found in Bald’s Leechbook, an Old English manuscript held in the British Library, and was translated by Anglo-Saxon expert Christina Lee, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Medieval Research.

The recipe is simple enough that you can make it at home: equal amounts of garlic and leek (or other alliums, such as onion), thoroughly chopped and crushed; mixed with equal amounts of English wine and dissolved bovine bile salts (available commercially as a gallbladder supplement); and chilled for nine days in a brass container or a glass jar containing a piece of brass.

Scientists still aren’t certain exactly how the recipe works — its effectiveness seems to come from the combination of the ingredients, not any single component — but its antibacterial properties have been verified in animal testing at Texas Tech University.

Almost as interesting to researchers as the recipe are the questions it raises about the practice of science in what are popularly known as the “dark ages.”

Although the germ theory of disease wasn’t devised until centuries later, University of Nottingham microbiologist Steve Diggle, Ph.D., says the recipe “suggests that people were doing carefully planned experiments long before the scientific method was developed.”


Image above: While the garlic concoction may have surprising antibacterial properties, other ancient practices, like bloodletting, are unlikely to stage a modern-day comeback. Above, a patient is bled to release the “bad humors” from his body. The desired effect was to bleed the patient to the point of fainting. 

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