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Saturday, 16 May 2015

Bald's Eye Salve And Other Ointments

Anglo Saxons were not as ignorant as we once thought. While the later Middle Ages doctors moved into quackery, the early Middle Ages, under the Anglo-Saxons saw a far different approach. The latest studies suggest that the Anglo-Saxon healers (usually monks or friars ... think Cadfeal) were using observational experimentation to determine the effectiveness of their cures.

'Bald's Leechbook'


The Anglo-Saxon cure for eye infections contained in the 9th Century book 'Bald's Leechbook', involved a salve made up of onion, garlic and the bile from a cow's stomach. Amazingly researchers found that it proved to be about 90% effective against methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The reason why this shows that the Anglo-Saxons were using experimentation, is that each of the components is useless by themselves .... it was only when combined just so, that the salve exhibited its anti-microbial resistance properties.

The Salve recipe was translated as this: 
  • Equal amounts of garlic and another allium (onion or leek), finely chopped and crushed in a mortar for two minutes. 
  • Add 25ml (0.87 fl oz) of English wine - taken from a historic vineyard near Glastonbury (Global warming back then allowed Vineyards to flourish in England). 
  • Dissolve bovine salts in distilled water, add and then keep chilled for nine days at 4C.

The researchers remarked that there are many similar medieval books with treatments for what appear to be bacterial infections, although of course they didn't know about bacteria and just treated the illness symptoms. Who knows what little gems may be hidden amongst the undoubted superstitions.

I have remarked before that we are not half as clever as we think we are .....

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