How effective is medieval medicine today?

A medieval remedy made from natural ingredients could help combat the increasing antibiotic resistance worldwide. The agent appears to be particularly suitable for the treatment of biofilm-associated infections.

An investigation at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick found that an old medieval remedy appeared to be effective in treating biofilm-associated infections. The results were published in the scientific reports in English.

How do bacteria survive?

Bacteria survive in two different ways, either as single planktonic cells or as a multicellular biofilm. Such a biofilm helps protect the bacteria from antibiotics, making them much more difficult to treat. A biofilm that is very difficult to treat occurs, for example, in diabetic foot ulcers.

The researchers tried to find a natural remedy to close the gap in antibiotic treatment. They found that medieval methods with natural antimicrobial agents made from everyday ingredients could help to solve the problem.

What was the 1,000 year old remedy made of?

Building on previous research by the University of Nottingham on the use of medieval remedies to treat MRSA, University of Warwick researchers reconstructed an ancient medicinal remedy that contains onions, garlic, wine, and bile salts. The mixture showed a promising antibacterial effect. However, the team found that the mixture also causes little damage to human cells.

What could the remedy be effective against?

The agent is effective against a number of gram-negative and gram-positive wound pathogens in planktonic culture and could be used against pathogens that occur as biofilms, such as Acinetobacter baumanii, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Streptococcus pyogenes. All of these bacteria can be found in the biofilms that occur in diabetic foot ulcers and that may be resistant to antibiotic treatment. It is not uncommon for such ulcers to require amputation to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the blood and causing fatal bacteremia.

Antibiotic activity is not based on a single ingredient

The use of garlic containing allicin could explain the activity against planktonic cultures. However, garlic alone has no activity against biofilms, and therefore the antibiotic activity of the remedy cannot be attributed to a single ingredient, but it requires the combination of all ingredients to achieve full activity, the researchers report.

Remedy has potential for effective antibacterial treatment

It was shown that the medieval remedy made from onions, garlic, wine and bile can kill a number of problematic bacteria that grow both planktonically and as biofilms. Since the mixture did not do much harm to human cells in the laboratory or to laboratory animals (mice), the drug could potentially be used to develop a safe and effective antibacterial treatment, the research group explains.

Should only single connections be researched?

A large proportion of the antibiotics used today come from natural compounds. The results of the current research underline the need to research not only individual compounds, but also mixtures of natural products for the treatment of biofilm infections.

Check ingredients using realistic models

The researchers explain that the identification of new antibiotics from natural products could be improved by examining different combinations of ingredients instead of single plants or compounds. The current study shows how important it is to use realistic models when looking for new antibiotics. Although a single component is sufficient to kill planktonic cultures, it fails due to more realistic infection models, where the complete remedy is successful, the research group continues. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Jessica Furner-Pardoe, Blessing O. Anonye, Ricky Cain, John Moat, Catherine A. Ortori et al.: Anti-biofilm efficacy of a medieval treatment for bacterial infection requires the combination of multiple ingredients, in Scientific Reports (veröffentlicht 28.07.2020), Scientific Reports

Important NOTE:
This article contains general information only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.