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The team now has good, replicated data showing that Bald’s eye salve kills up to 90% of MRSA bacteria in ‘in vivo’ wound biopsies from mouse models.
They believe the bactericidal effect of the recipe is not due to a single ingredient but the combination used and brewing methods/container material used.
These unexpected findings provide an impetus to further explore the realm of historical medicine.
Systematically sifting through the tomes of medieval hocus-pocus may help to reveal novel antimicrobial compounds, or could perhaps enable the rediscovery of other forgotten medicinal recipes which may be valuable as we enter into the post-antibiotic era.
Although many of the individual ingredients of Bald’s eyesalve have been known to exhibit antibacterial activities for some time, the efficacy of the concoction was found to be largely dependent upon careful adherence to the written instructions in .
In other words, deviation from either the recommended combination of ingredients, or the recommended preparatory method (which includes a 9-day waiting period) resulted in a reduction in efficacy.
Experiments and Results The full translation of the recipe for Bald’s eyesalve (given by Harrison et al., 2015), is as follows: species – probably onion or leek] and garlic, pound well together, take equal amounts of wine and oxgall [bovine bile], mix with the alliums, put this in a brass vessel, let [the mixture] stand for nine nights in the brass vessel, wring through a cloth and clarify well, put in a horn and at night apply to the eye with a feather; the best medicine.species such as garlic, onion and leek produce a variety of compounds such as ajoene, allicin and flavonoids – which can have adverse effects on bacterial biofilm formation, quorum sensing (cell-cell communication) and virulence.
Bile salts act as surfactants, which can disrupt lipid membranes, and are known to be antibacterial (admittedly not usually against species over the 9-day waiting period.
It seems likely that many of these alleged treatments are not effective as cures – but what they lack in utility, they make up for in entertainment value.
Finally, the recipe specifies the use of a brass vessel.
Given the known antibacterial properties of copper, it is possible that copper salts leaching from the brass vessel may also contribute to the activity of the eyesalve.
The eyesalve appears to have been used to treat styes (eyelash follicle infections), which are most often caused by the Gram-positive bacterium (MRSA).
Despite the fact that a previous attempt by another group to measure the efficacy of Bald’s eyesalve had been unsuccessful (Brennessel et al., 2005), the researchers at the University of Nottingham and their collaborators at the Texas Tech University found that the eyesalve was very effective in killing both planktonic and biofilm forms of (MRSA) in a mouse chronic wound model”.
That the baneful sores, may neither burn nor burst, nor find their way further, nor turn foul and fallow, nor thump or throb on, nor be wicked wounds, nor dig deeply down, but he himself may hold in a way to health.