Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Understanding antibiotic resistance
Understanding antibiotic resistance

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4 A lesson from history

Before antibiotics were discovered, people developed their own approaches to treating infections. These traditional remedies were often developed through trial and error and were passed on by word of mouth. Their effectiveness was very unlikely to have been rigorously tested by a clinical trial.

In the light of the antibiotic era, old remedies can seem bizarre. However, some of them were effective at treating infections and scientists have uncovered some interesting potential antibiotic alternatives among them. You can read about one historical example in the next activity.

Activity 6 An Anglo-Saxon remedy for MRSA

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Eat leeks in March and wild garlic in May, and all the year after the physicians may play.

(Traditional Welsh rhyme)

Is there any truth in this rhyme? Read the following short article from New Scientist magazine to help you decide!

Article 1: ‘Anglo-Saxon remedy kills hospital superbug MRSA’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

As the article in Activity 6 mentions, the challenge in developing traditional remedies as antibiotic alternatives is to understand how they work. In the following sections, you will look at the scientific mechanisms underlying the antibacterial activity of two traditional remedies that have attracted interest as antibiotic alternatives – natural honey and metals.