A fistful of slimy green clay may be just what the doctor ordered. Researchers studying a special type of French clay found that it smothers a diverse array of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains and a particularly nasty pathogen that causes skin ulcers in some parts of the world.
Anecdotal accounts of clay's medicinal value, particularly in cleansing and protecting the skin, date back millennia, says geochemist Lynda Williams of Arizona State University in Tempe. In 2002, Williams was approached by a French humanitarian who had been using the special clay to treat Buruli ulcer, a disfiguring illness caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans. This ailment leads to many amputations in Central and Western Africa.
After seeing the clinical data on the clay's effectiveness against Buruli ulcer, Williams established a multicenter, interdisciplinary team of researchers to study the clay.