During the height of the civil war, the Confederate General Surgeon commissioned a guide to traditional plant remedies from the South, as the battlefield doctors faced a high rate of infection among the wounded and lack of conventional medicines. A new study of three of the plants in this handbook ̵
Scientific Reports publishes the results of the study, which was conducted by scientists from Emory University. The results show that extracts from the plants have antimicrobial activity against one or more of three dangerous species of multidrug-resistant bacteria associated with wound infections: Acinetobacter baumannii Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae .
"Our findings suggest that the use of these topical therapies could have saved some limbs and possibly even life during the Civil War," says Cassandra Quave, senior author of the paper and assistant professor at the Emory Center for the Study of Human Health and at the Department of Dermatology, Faculty of Medicine.
Quave is an ethnobotanist who studies how humans use plants in traditional healing practices to find promising candidates for new drugs. "Ethnobotany is essentially the science of survival – how people get along when they limit themselves to what's available in their immediate environment," she says. "The Guide to Civil War for Herbal Remedies is a good example."
"One day our research could benefit from modern wound care if we can find out which compounds are responsible for antimicrobial activity," adds Micah Dettweiler, author of the paper.
When the drugs are identified, "it is my hope that we can then test these molecules in our world-famous models for bacterial infections," says co-author Daniel Zurawski, chief of pathogenesis and virulence for the Department of Wound infections at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
"I have always been a fan of the Civil War," adds Zurawski. "I am also determined to learn everything we can gain from the past so that we can now benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors."
Other co-authors of the paper are Ryan Reddinger of the Walter Reed Army Research Institute; James Lyles from the Quave lab; and Kate Nelson of the Department of Dermatology, Emory School of Medicine.
Dettweiler was still an Emory student when he heard of the Civil War Plant Guide, and decided to research him for his Honors thesis. Since then he has a degree in biology and now works as a research specialist in the Quave lab.
"I was surprised to learn that far more civilian soldiers died of disease than in battle," he says. "I was also surprised how often an amputation was used as a medical treatment for an infected wound."
About one in 13 surviving Civil War soldiers went home with one or more missing limbs, according to the American Battlefield Trust.
At the time of the civil war from 1861 to 1865, the germ theory was in a state of development and only gradually began to gain acceptance. The formal medical training was also in its infancy. An antiseptic was simply defined as a tonic used to prevent "killing the meat". According to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, iodine and bromine were sometimes used to treat infections, although the reason for their effectiveness was unknown
Military field hospitals within the Confederation, however, had no reliable access to these medicines due to a blockade – the Union Navy oversaw the major ports of the South precisely to prevent trade of the Confederation.
] In search of alternatives, the Confederation commissioned Francis Porcher, a botanist and surgeon from South Carolina, to compile a book of medicinal plants from the southern states, including plant remedies used by Native Americans and enslaved Africans. "Southern Fields and Forests Resources", published in 1863, was a comprehensive compendium of uses for various plants, including a description of 37 species used to treat gangrene and other infections. Samuel Moore, the Confederate Surgeon General, drew a document from Porcher's work titled "Standard Supply Table of Domestic Pharmaceuticals for Field Sales and the Patients in General Hospitals."
For the current study, researchers focused on three plant species of Porcher cited for antiseptic use in Lullwater Preserve on the Emory campus. These included two deciduous trees – the white oak (Quercus alba) and the tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) – as well as a thorny, woody shrub commonly known as the Devil's Stick (Aralia spinosa).
Samples of these three plants were taken on campus according to Porcher's information. Extracts were obtained from white oak bark and bile; Tulip poplar leaves, root inner bark and branch bark; and the devil's walking stick goes. The extracts were then tested on three types of multidrug-resistant bacteria, which are common in wound infections.
Aceinetobacter baumannii – better known as the "Iraqibacter" due to its association with wounded combat troops resulting from the Iraq war – exhibits extensive resistance to most first-line antibiotics. "It poses a major threat to soldiers recovering from battle wounds and to hospitals in general," says Quave.
Staphylococcus aureus is considered the most dangerous of all common staph bacteria and can spread through skin infections or medical devices through the bloodstream and infect distant organs. Klebsiella pneumoniae is another major cause of hospital infection and can lead to life-threatening cases of pneumonia and septic shock.
Laboratory tests revealed that white oak and tulip poplar extracts inhibited the growth of S. aureus while the white-oak extracts also inhibited A growth. baumannii and K. Pneumonia . Extracts from these two plants also inhibited S. aureus from the formation of biofilms that can act as a protective shield against antibiotics.
Extracts from the Devil's cane inhibited both biofilm formation and quorum sensing in S. aureus . Quorum Sensing is a signaling system that uses staphylococci to produce toxins and increase virulence. Blocking this system essentially "disarms" the bacteria.
Traditional herbal remedies are often rejected if they do not actively attack and kill pathogens in the age of drug-resistant bacteria. "
" Plants have a great wealth of chemical diversity, which is another reason to protect the natural environment, "says Dettweiler, who plans to study for a medicinal or agricultural purpose." I'm interested me for plants, because although they do not move from place to place, they are extremely powerful and important. "
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retrieved on May 22, 2019
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