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The garlic-based 'potion', listed in a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon manuscript, has been found to kill off the MRSA superbug

The Anglo-Saxons recorded an ancient remedy that alleviates infections caused by a bacteria responsible for Styes. A Stye also known as a hordeolum is a painful lump around the eyelid. It's filled with pus and is usually caused by a staphylococcus bacteria eye infection. Styes are usually visible on the surface but can appear deeper inside the eyelid.

Styes are caused by a bacteria known as staphylococcal. It lives on the surface of your skin. We have billions of friendly bacteria living and coexisting on our bodies. The bacteria feast on our dead cells which cause a tender pimple.

Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, was speaking with Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon scholar. They were aware of an old remedy from an English medical book called Bald’s Leechbook. They had hoped by testing the remedy it could give them a solution for hard-to-treat skin infections.

Sourcing authentic ingredients was a major challenge, says Harrison. They had to hope for the best with the leeks and garlic because modern crop varieties are likely to be quite different to ancient ones – even those branded as heritage. For the wine, they used an organic vintage from a historic English vineyard.

As “brass vessels” would be hard to sterilise – and expensive – they used glass bottles with squares of brass sheet immersed in the mixture. Bullocks gall was easy, though, as cow’s bile salts are sold as a supplement for people who have had their gall bladders removed.

After nine days of stewing, the potion had killed all the soil bacteria introduced by the leek and garlic. “It was self-sterilising,” says Harrison. “That was the first inkling that this crazy idea just might have some use.”

A side effect was that it made the lab smell of garlic. “It was not unpleasant,” says Harrison. “It’s all edible stuff. Everyone thought we were making lunch.”

The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital superbug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria. Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps.


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