Ancient Medicines

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 44, taken from Wikipedia Commons at
Bayeux Tapestry Scene 44, taken from Wikipedia Commons

Over the last ten years there has been a lot of discussion about the post-antiobiotic era, as increasing numbers of drugs lose their efficacy. One of the key problems has been the practice of using antibiotics as a growth enhancer in agriculture. Recently, researchers at Texas Tech discovered that antibiotic resistant bacteria from feedlots are airborne. Now there may be a new alternative to addressing antiobiotic resistance discovered in England, where researchers at the University of Nottingham tested a recipe to treat infections from the 9th century. There cannot be too many medical researchers willing to work with directions that have to be translated from early Anglo-Saxon. If you’re curious, you can click here to see the strengths of a medieval approach to the problem of infection. What the researchers found was that a recipe based on cow bile, garlic and wine successfully killed MRSA in the lab, even when it had developed biofilms, which make it difficult to treat. Of course, this study took place in testtubes and mice rather than in a clinical setting. It will be some time before we know if these results can be replicated in people. Still, it raises the point that the modern age does not have a monopoly on medical knowledge.

When Chinese scientists needed to find a treatment for drug-resistant malaria during the Vietnam War, they turned to sweet wormwood, which was an age-old treatment found in classic Chinese medical texts. It soon became the standard treatment for malaria, although resistance is again emerging in South East Asia. Who knows what other remedies may be hidden in old formularies that have not been used in centuries, not only in Europe, but also in many other nations?

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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