Thieves and goats came to Richard Jones's rescue when he contracted a severe case of MRSA. When modern medicine had run out of answers, a remedy used during the Black Death (plus the goats) got him well in just two weeks
Shann Jones suddenly felt very alone. Her husband Richard was lying unconscious in bed with the worst case of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection the doctor and nurse had ever seen. The nurse said she couldn't help, and the doctor confessed that the extent of the infection was beyond his level of experience.
The doctor, a local GP in mid-Wales where Shann and Richard lived, told her to contact the surgeon in Cardiff who had operated on Richard's colon, a procedure which led to the infection. "He went white when he saw the extent of Richard's wounds and scuttled out of the house," Shann recalled.
It was the second time Richard had been infected with MRSA in just a few weeks. He first contracted the disease in hospital when he had part of his colon removed as an emergency procedure to treat colitis. This infection was successfully treated, but he caught it again when he went back to hospital for a minor procedure.
This time the infection came back with a vengeance. Richard remembers nothing of what happened, although he later related a near-death experience he had while in hospital.
Back at home, Richard was reacting badly to antibiotics. He was vomiting all the time and was getting weaker. Just before he left their home, the doctor suggested that Richard stop taking the drugs. "And so we were left with nothing. The NHS had no solutions left to offer us," Shann recalled. "His wounds were appalling. They really did look as though there were tiny teeth marks around them, and they were going deeper
It was in that moment of quiet desperation that Shann remembered something about thieves and oils. In fact, it was the second serendipitous remark that was to have a profound effect on the wellbeing of someone Shann loved. The first had been about goats and their milk, which Richard had mentioned as a possible antidote to her son's asthma attacks.
That chance remark not only led to the solution to two-year-old Benji's intractable asthma, which had caused bronchial infections requiring emergency hospital treatment, it was also the start of a new business, Chuckling Goat, with Shann making soaps and skin creams from goat's milk. "Every farmer in Wales knows that goat's milk can treat asthma," said Richard, 52, later.
Now it was Richard who needed help-and urgently. Shann was already treating him with kefir, a probiotic, made from raw goat's milk. This was repopulating Richard's gut with 'good' bacteria, but she needed something more to treat the terrible infections that seemed to be eating his flesh away.
That was when she remembered the chance suggestion about thieves' oil someone had made on her Facebook page. Thieves' oil is made up of five essential oils-clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary-and is a powerful antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial.
Myth has it that the oil was used during the Black Death, the bubonic plague pandemic that killed around one-third of the world's population in the 14th century. Thieves who robbed the corpses used the oils to protect themselves during their macabre activities. Another story has it that the name of the concoction was a mistranslation of the name of the person who first came up with the combination. Myths aside, Weber State University in Utah tested the oils more than 15 years ago, and found they were highly effective in killing airborne bacteria.
Faced with no other options, Shann made up a mixture of the oils, diluted them in warm water and used it to wash Richard's body. It was certainly a labour of love. The treatment also involved applying antibiotic cream and colloidal silver spray to the wounds before dressing them with bandages infused with manuka honey. Then she wiped his whole body, including under the finger and toe nails, with the essential oils before coating his skin with probiotic coconut oil. "Poor Richard looked a little like a Christmas cake," she said.
Christmas certainly came early for Richard. After two weeks of Shann's intensive care and attention, which required her repeating the treatment three times a day, Richard made a full recovery. A swab test later confirmed there was no MRSA left in his body.
The local newspaper eventually got to hear about the miracle on its doorstep and reported Richard's story under the headline: 'Farmer struck down by MRSA says goats saved his life'. Not entirely true, but the story got round, and it was the oils-not the goats-that attracted the interest of researchers at the University
They tested the oils, which they called CG Oils-probably because it sounds a little more scientific than Chuckling Goat oils-on samples of S. aureus (MRSA), Escherichia coli and Salmonella bacteria. Even at the lowest potency of just 0.05 per cent, the oils killed all the samples. Only when a fake, or placebo, oil was used did the bugs continue to thrive.
Swansea University has also taken an interest in Shann and the goats, and are testing kefir on a range of intractable diseases.
Buoyed by this success, Shann, 47, is busy preparing her new line of Chuckling Goat products, all containing the oils. The neat oil is already available, and she's now working on sprays and gels.
The oil is available only on the Chuckling Goat website (www.chucklinggoat.co.uk), but the original goat's milk soaps and skin creams are sold at Fortnum & Mason and The Nutri Centre.
Shann and Richard have a herd of 55 goats in their Welsh smallholding-and they say they know the name of each one. The goats are milked twice a day, and the milk is filtered before adding grains containing nutrients and live bacteria cultures to make kefir, while the rest is used for the soaps and skin creams. They've also obtained a license from the Welsh authorities to sell raw goat's milk.
Even Prince Charles has used their soap. When the couple met him at a special function of local producers to celebrate an initiative the Prince had sponsored to encourage cottage industries in the Mid-Wales region, they gave him a bar of the goat's milk soap. According to HRH's private secretary, it was taken to his Welsh home where it was "greatly enjoyed".
After Benji was cured of his asthma with the goat's milk, Shann-a former TV reporter from California-went on an intensive course to learn how to make soap and creams from the milk. This all happened after the couple married in 2010, when Richard was still working as a harp maker. It was "an instant merger and an instant family", said Shann, who moved into Richard's 25-acre smallholding with her two children, then aged two
Neither Shann nor Richard had any interest in alternative medicine-in fact, they didn't believe in it. "I was quite sceptical about alternative medicine and treatments," said Richard.
But after being successfully treated with the oils and having seen Benji's asthma successfully treated with goat's milk, Shann and Richard have changed their minds. "There was no other explanation for what happened to me," he said.
It's enough to make a goat chuckle.
Thieves' oil is available in stores and on the web-and, of course, from Chuckling Goat (www.chucklinggoat.co.uk).
It should be stored in a cool dark place. It gives a warming sensation, and should be massaged into the lower back, tops of the thighs, back of the neck and, most important of all, on the feet.
You can also make up your own thieves' oil. You need clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils, plus a carrier or base oil like almond oil if you wish to dilute it.
Mix 200 drops of clove oil (two and a half teaspoons) with 175 drops (two teaspoons plus 25 drops) of lemon oil, 100 drops (one teaspoon plus 25 drops) of cinnamon oil, 75 drops (one teaspoon) of eucalyptus and 50 drops (half a teaspoon) of rosemary oil. The concoction should be stored in a dark glass container in a cool place.
The strange story of thieves' oil
Essential oils have had an important role to play throughout history. They were mentioned in the Old Testament when Moses gave oils to the Israelites to protect them from the plagues that were sweeping through ancient Egypt. Although it's not known what oils Moses used, those that are high in phenols, carvacrol, thymol and terpenes seem to be effective against viruses, fungi and bacteria.
According to the story of the four thieves, oils were also used to protect people against the Black Death. The thieves were purported to be spice traders and perfumers who, understanding the protective effect of the oils, were able to rob the bodies of plague victims in France. They were caught and revealed their secret only when a magistrate threatened them with imprisonment-or worse.
Bringing the story up to date, researchers at Weber State University in Utah tested thieves' oil, and discovered it was a highly effective killer of airborne bacteria.1
1 J Essent Oil Res, 1998; 10: 517-23