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Traditional herbal medicine rediscovered as an antibacterial miracle cure

Traditional herbal medicine rediscovered as an antibacterial miracle cure


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Plant medicine protected soldiers from bacterial infections

In the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865, a naturopathic work by the botanist Francis Porcher was created. Due to a lack of medication, the southern armed forces turned to naturopathy to protect the numerous injured soldiers from infections. This old knowledge was recently rediscovered in a study. The researchers see the antiseptic properties of the plants described as an opportunity to develop new and effective antibacterial agents.

A research team from the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University in Atlanta examined traditional herbal medicinal plants for the potential for new agents against multi-resistant bacteria. Research focused in particular on three trees: the American white oak (Quercus alba), the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and the Teufels Krückstock (Aralia spinosa). All three plants showed strong antiseptic properties. The study results were recently presented in the scientific reports.

Turned to herbal medicine in need

At the time of the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, there were bottlenecks in the supply of medicines in the high phases. Infection rates were high among the numerous wounded soldiers. In search of alternatives, the southern armed forces asked botanist and surgeon Francis Porcher from South Carolina for help. He was asked to compile a book listing medicinal plants from the southern states and describing herbal remedies used by Native Americans and enslaved Africans.

Supply shortage sparked interest in naturopathy

Francis Porcher completed his work with the title "Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests" in 1863. The Confederate Surgeon General Samuel Moore made a document out of it with the title "Standard supply table of the indigenous medicines for the field service and the patients in general hospitals" , which served as a guide for the care of injured soldiers when no medication was available.

The works of Francis Porcher revived

Nowadays people are facing similar problems again. There is no civil war and no supply shortage of medication, but there is a lack of new means against multi-resistant bacteria, which are spreading further and further. The Emory research team turned to naturopathy again in search of new active ingredients.

Plant extract saved injured soldiers' lives and limbs

The research results show that extracts from the three trees examined have an antimicrobial effect against one or more of three dangerous types of multidrug-resistant bacteria, which can trigger serious wound infections. The extracts acted against bacteria of the type Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae. "Our results suggest that the use of these extracts saved some limbs and lives during the civil war," said lead study author Cassandra Quave.

New active ingredients in old medicine

Professor Quave is an expert in the field of ethnobotany. This science examines the use of plants as medicine or as a useful plant as well as the customs of the plant in ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. “The American Civil War is a great example of the use of herbal medicines,” explains the ethnobotanist. Research can benefit modern wound care if it is identified which active substances in the plants are responsible for the antimicrobial activity.

The plant extracts were made in the traditional way

The plant extracts examined were created on the basis of Porcher's works. They contain extracts from the bark of the white oak, from the leaves of the tulip tree and from the root bark as well as the two bark of the devil's cane. The extracts were then tested in the laboratory for three types of multi-resistant bacteria that are commonly found in wound infections.

The power of the white oak

The bacterium Aceinetobacter baumannii was widespread among soldiers who returned from the Iraq war. It shows extensive resistance to most antibiotics. "It is a major threat to patients recovering from wounds in hospitals and to soldiers who sustain combat wounds," explains Quave. Extracts of white oak were able to inhibit the growth of A. Baumannii.

Suppress staphylococci with tuple and white oak

The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus is a dangerous pathogen that first affects the skin, from there it can get into the bloodstream and thus also infect distant organs. White oak and tulip tree extracts suppressed the growth of the bacteria and prevented the bacteria from producing a biofilm that protects Staphylococcus aureus from antibiotics.

Teufels Krückstock prevented biofilm formation

The bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae is a common hospital germ and repeatedly causes life-threatening infections that can lead to pneumonia or septic shock. Extracts from the Teufels Krückstock were able to prevent the bacterium from forming a biofilm, making it more susceptible to antibiotics. (vb)

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