The History of Donkey Milk and How it Was Used

Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), the father of medicine, prescribed asses’ milk for numerous purposes, such as liver troubles, infectious diseases, fevers, oedema, nose bleeds, poisonings, and wounds.

It is well known that Cleopatra, the Queen of Ancient Egypt, known for her stunning beauty, took her daily baths in Asses' milk. As as legend says, more than 500 donkeys were required for this and wherever she travelled the asses would be brought along to ensure that the queen did not miss her daily ritual for preserving the beauty and youth of her skin. The second wife of the Roman Emperor Nero, Poppea Sabina, also followed this routine and she is written about in Pliny's description of donkeys' milk virtues for the skin. Pliny tells us that asses' milk "effaces wrinkles in the skin, renders the skin more delicate and preserves its whiteness", "it is well known that some women are in the habit of washing their faces in it seven times a day, strictly adhering to that number". Napoleon Boneparte's sister, Pauline, was also a fan of asses' milk for skincare. Pliny the Elder recommends donkeys' milk to fight poisoning, fever, fatigue, eye stains, weakened teeth, ulcerations, asthma and certain gynecological problems. Similarly, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, (1707–1788) mentions the benefits of asses’ milk in his Histoire naturelle: "Asses’ milk, on the contrary, is a well-tried remedy specific to certain illnesses, and the use of this remedy has been retained from the Greeks until now".

Until the beginning of the 20th century donkeys' milk (asses' milk) was used as a substitute for breast milk and to a lesser extent through the war. Up until about 60 years ago well looked after donkeys could be found on street corners in most cities to provide a nourishing meal for babies which is no longer the case. Particularly, in France, Catalonia and Southern Italy around a hundred years ago one could find visiting donkeys that would come to the door of your house and be milked on the spot. The properties of donkey milk were known to be highly beneficial to weak children.

At the time of the famous author Jane Austin's writings asses' milk was thought to be an amazing therapy for patients suffering from consumption and sickly persons more generally. William Buchan's Domestic Medicine from the early 1900s refers to asses'milk as a cure for coughs and respiratory problems. An article was published in the London Globe & the New York Times in October 1882 referring to a study that was done in a children's hospital in Paris at that time. The results concluded that donkey's milk was a clear winner agains sheep's milk & cow's milk when given to children with contagious diseases.

In India even today donkeys' milk is given to newborn babies to boost their immune systems and "give them a good, strong voice".

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