Name: Bald’s eyesalve.
Age: 1,000 years old.
Appearance: Translucent brown liquid.
Purpose: Potential cure.
For what? Originally, eye styes; these days, superbugs.
Superbugs? Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
Where does this treatment come from? From a 10th-century Anglo-Saxon medical text called Bald’s Leechbook.
I’m not familiar with Bald’s work. Who was he? Nobody really knows, but the manuscript, written in Old English, contains the line: “Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile.”
Typical – Cild does the work, Bald takes the credit. What’s in his eyesalve? Garlic, onion, English wine and cow’s bile, left in a brass bowl for nine nights.
And who are the ignorant, sandal-wearing cranks proposing this as a cure for modern-day superbugs? Scientists at the University of Warwick.
A-ha! No, wait. In a newly published study, the research team found the salve was particularly effective against biofilms – multi-bacterial communities that produce a slimy, protective matrix associated with persistent infections.
Could it work on people? “We think this combination could suggest new treatments for infected wounds, such as diabetic foot and leg ulcers,” said Dr Freya Harrison, one of the study’s authors.
And they used a genuine recreation of old Bald’s recipe? Precisely – they combined equal parts garlic and onion with bovine bile salts and a dry white from Somerset, and let it steep for nine days.
Can’t they just isolate the active ingredient, give it a weird name and package it up like normal, expensive medicine? That’s the thing: no single ingredient is responsible. It’s the combination of compounds, working in concert, that seems to do the trick.
Where did the scientists get the idea in the first place? This isn’t the first time it has been considered. A 2015 study found that the Bald’s eyesalve was a potent killer of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA.
This is astounding. What other miracle drugs did Bald invent? Agrimony boiled in milk, he says, will revive flagging male potency. But it has the exact opposite effect when boiled in Welsh beer.
I’ve found that Welsh beer has the opposite effect all by itself. That’s precisely the kind of evidence-based research we need right now.
Anything else? He also offered a treatment for elf-induced maladies in horses, but it has never been tested under laboratory conditions.
I blame Elfin safety. Yes, well done. Someone has to pick that low-hanging fruit.
Do say: “Ancient cures, properly studied, have much to teach us about the modern fight against drug-resistant pathogens.”
Don’t say: “Mr President, we’ve found a coronavirus cure! Start stockpiling mugwort!”