Antimicrobial assays of three native British plants used in Anglo-Saxon medicine for wound healing formulations in 10th century England

J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Nov 21;144(2):408-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.09.031. Epub 2012 Sep 28.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Three important Anglo-Saxon medical texts from the 10th century contain herbal formulations for over 250 plant species, many of which have yet to be evaluated for their phytochemical and/or pharmacological properties. In this study, three native British plants were selected to determine antimicrobial activity relevant to treating bacterial infections and wounds.

Materials and methods: Several preparations of Agrimonia eupatoria L., Arctium minus (Hill) Bernh. and Potentilla reptans L. were screened for antimicrobial activity against selected Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria of relevance in wounds using a 96 well plate microdilution method (200, 40 and 8μg/mL). Minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) values were determined for the most potent extracts from 2 to 0.004mg/mL and HPLC chromatograms examined by multivariate analysis. Principle components analysis (PCA) was used to identify chemical differences between antimicrobial activity of the crude extracts.

Results: The HPLC-PCA score plots attributed HPLC peaks to the antimicrobial activity with all three plants inhibiting growth of Gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus by >50% in four or more extracts. The first two principal components (PC) represented 87% of the dataset variance. The P. reptans 75% ethanol root extract exhibited the greatest range of activity with MIC(50) at 31.25μg/mL to a total MIC that was also the minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC) at 1mg/mL. Additionally, the root of P. reptans, inhibited growth of Gram-negative bacteria with the 75% ethanol extract having a MIC(50) at 1mg/mL against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the decoction a MIC(50) at 3.9μg/mL against Escherichia coli.

Conclusions: The results indicate a moderate antimicrobial activity against common wound pathogens for P. reptans suggesting it may well have been effective for treating wound and bacterial infections. Anglo-Saxon literary heritage may provide a credible basis for researching new antimicrobial formulations. Our approach encompassing advanced analytical technologies and chemometric models paves the way for systematic investigation of Anglo-Saxon medical literature for further therapeutic indications to uncover knowledge of native British plants, some of which are currently lost to modern Western herbal medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agrimonia*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Arctium*
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • England
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Potentilla*
  • Wound Healing


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Plant Extracts