Posted in Tudor Medicine

An ‘irrelevant,’ medieval cure: kills MRSA!!

An ancient remedy found inside an old leather bound manuscript, called ‘Bald’s Leechbook,’ in the British library has been found to kill the MRSA super bug. The recipe which was designed to cure eye infections, called wens or sty’s, could hold the key to killing other antibiotic-resistant super-bugs. Dr. Erin Connelly at Nottingham University estimates that:

‘700,000 people around the world die annually from drug-resistant infections. If the situation does not change, it is estimated that such in will kill 10 million people per year by 2050.’

The Leechbook was written in the ninth or tenth century. Leech is an ancient word for doctor and the leechbook was still popular in Tudor times ( Borman 2016)

The recipe:

Equal amounts of allium (onion, garlic or leek),

Finely chopped and crushed in a mortar for two minutes.

 Oxgall: (bile from a cow’s stomach).

English wine – (taken from a historic vineyard near Glastonbury).

Brewed in a brass vessel, strained and then left to sit for nine days before use.

The researchers found that if the ingredients are taken separately they have no effect. The combination of all of the ingredients if prepared in the correct way was astonishingly effective on MRSA.


The Ancient-biotics team is a group of medievalists, microbiologists, medicinal chemists, parasitologists, pharmacists and data scientists from multiple countries. They believe that the answers to the antibiotic crisis can be found in medical history. They hope to unravel whether the cures really worked and why. They are compiling a database of medieval medical recipes.


Other recipes from Bald’s Leechbook:

Fir knee pain; 
pound together woodwax- and hedge- 
rife, and put into ale ; let it lie for a night, give him 
then that to drink, bathe with it, and lay it on. In 
case that a knee be sore, take wallwort and doffing, 
and red nettle, boil in water, bathe therewith.
If blood run from a mans nose too much, take 
green betony and rue, pound them in vinegar, twist 
them together like as it might be a sloe, poke it into 

Dr Lee said in her article in Good Health:

‘There are many similar medieval books with treatments for what appear to be bacterial infections. She said this could suggest people were carrying out detailed scientific studies centuries before bacteria were discovered. It seems Anglo-Saxon physicians may have practised something close to the modern scientific method of observation and experimentation.’

© The British Library Board (Royal 12 D xvi)

Dr Lee said:

“Medieval leech books and herbaria contain many remedies designed to treat what are clearly bacterial infections (weeping wounds/sores, eye and throat infections, skin conditions such as erysipelas, leprosy and chest infections). Given that these remedies were developed well before the modern understanding of germ theory, this poses two questions: How systematic was the development of these remedies? And how effective were these remedies against the likely causative species of bacteria? Answering these questions will greatly improve our understanding of medieval scholarship and medical empiricism, and may reveal new ways of treating serious bacterial infections that continue to cause illness and death.”

Dr Steve Diggle added:

“When we built this recipe in the lab I didn’t really expect it to actually do anything. When we found that it could actually disrupt and kill cells in S. aureus bio films, I was genuinely amazed. Bio films are naturally antibiotic resistant and difficult to treat so this was a great result. The fact that it works on an organism that it was apparently designed to treat an infection of a sty in the eye suggests that people were doing carefully planned experiments long before the scientific method was developed.”



Dr Kendra Rumbaugh carried out testing of the remedy on MRSA at Texas Tech University in the USA said:

“We know that MRSA infected wounds are exceptionally difficult to treat in people and in mouse models. We have not tested a single antibiotic or experimental therapeutic that is completely effective; however, this ‘ancient remedy’ performed as good if not better than the conventional antibiotics we used.”

Dr Harrison concludes:

“The rise of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria and the lack of new antimicrobials in the developmental pipeline are key challenges for human health. There is a pressing need to develop new strategies against pathogens because the cost of developing new antibiotics is high and eventual resistance is likely. This truly cross-disciplinary project explores a new approach to modern health care problems by testing whether medieval remedies contain ingredients which kill bacteria or interfere with their ability to cause infection”.


Bald’s Leechbook online:

The private lives of the Tudors. Pg: 28 Tracy Boreman.

The University of Nottingham website

Article by Dr Christina Lee in Good Health

The Royal College of Physicians.

CBC News website in technology and science section

BBC News, England website: Nottingham

The British library website



I love Tudor history and my bookshelves seem to groan a bit more every year...

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