London - A stomach-churning potion from the Dark Ages could herald the death of the MRSA superbug.
According to researchers, the ancient treatment outperforms conventional antibiotics.
Scientists say they have been left "dumbfounded" by the killing ability of this ancient cure for eye infections, which dates back to the 10th century.
The idea that the Anglo-Saxon recipe - which includes wine, garlic and bile from a cow's stomach - could hold the key to defeating MRSA came about after a chance discussion between academics at Nottingham University last year.
During a meeting on infectious diseases, Dr Christina Lee, an expert in Old English, told microbiologists about Bald's Leechbook - an Anglo-Saxon medical textbook kept in the British Library.
Dr Lee translated a recipe for treating styes - an infection of an eyelash usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that forms MRSA when it becomes resistant to antibiotics - allowing researchers to painstakingly recreate it and test it on the superbug.
The 1,000-year-old remedy has proven to be "incredibly potent", according to lead researcher Dr Freya Harrison, a microbiologist from the University of Nottingham.
The individual ingredients alone did not have any measurable effect, but when combined according to the ancient text's recipe they killed up to 90 per cent of MRSA bacteria in infected mice. In infections grown in the laboratory, only about one bacterial cell in a thousand survived.
"I still can't quite believe how well this actually seems to be working," said Dr Harrison. "When we got the first results we were just utterly dumbfounded. We did not see this coming at all."
The findings will be presented at the Society for General Microbiology's annual conference in Birmingham tomorrow and have been submitted to Nature for publication. And this may be just the start - the initial success of the research is prompting scientists to look at nine other recipes from the book.
Dr Kendra Rumbaugh, a microbiologist at Texas Tech University who was part of the research team, said: "I was quite sceptical. However, this ancient solution performed better than the current 'gold standard' [vancomycin]."
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs Council, said: "Looking back and discovering these lost potential treatments will take just as much skill and expertise as developing new ones from scratch. This isn't going to happen overnight, and will need substantial investment."
RECIPE TO TREAT A STYE FROM BALD'S LEECHBOOK
“Work an eye salve for a wen, take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks gall, of both equal quantities, mix with a leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.”