Asses Milk.

Original title page

Our author, Mr Hoffman, assures us that Asses’ Milk “was strenuously recommended by the antient physicians, and esteemed of sovereign benefit in rooting out the obstinate remains of the most grievous distempers.” Yet, he complains, most modern physicians are “very ignorant of its most excellent qualities.”

All milk is good in its own way, “yet asses milk is by far the most efficacious, and its virtues in physic exceed those of every other species so much, that no sort of remedy is to be discovered so safe, and so powerful in its effects.” Taken in the correct quantity and at the right time “it gives eminent relief to such as are afflicted with phthisics, hectics, consumption and slow consuming fevers, chronical coughs, and a scorbutic atrophy, hyperchondriac and hysteric disorders, cramps, ulcers in the bowels, and diseases that proceed from the saline acrid erosion.”

Consider, for example, the case of the consumptive alcoholic:

“A man, about thirty years old, of a very debauched life, and given to all kinds of intemperance, especially drinking of spirituous liquors, first fell into a spitting of blood, which being cured, tho’ after a long continuance, he contracted a fever, which at first had the appearance of a defluxion, but at length consumed his strength, and afflicted him night and day. He continually spit up a great discharge of purulent and viscid matter, his strength failed, and his flesh wasted so speedily, that he could not walk about, and was given over by everybody. Yet, after he had lain three months in this sad condition, by God’s blessing he recovered, unexpectedly, at the return of the spring, on drinking goats milk warm every morning, after I had administered gentle, opening, saline-abstersive and nitrous powders, to remove his obstruction and hectic heat.”

And another case:

“I likewise remember, many years since, when I practis’d physic at Minden, a nobleman, thirty years of age, of a full sad and sanguine habit of body, who, after a pleurisy injudiciously treated, fell into so very great a spitting both of purulent and chylos matter, which lasted more than a month; and that he sometimes spit more than a pint a day, and was thereby surprisingly weaken’d and emaciated. I ordered him to drink Asses milk, with powders of crab-shells and bole armonic, balsam of sulphur of almonds, sperma ceti, and dragons blood mixt; when he had done this for two months, by the assistance of providence he was happily cured, to the admiration of all that knew him.”

This is all very well, I hear the reader sigh, but what about cases of hypochondriac melancholy? Well:

“For the same reason this judicious author zealously recommends Asses milk, in madness and hypochondriac melancholy, which are occasioned by spasms, that force too great a quantity of blood into the head, so that it cannot circulate equally and freely thro’ the vessels of the membranes that inclose the brain: and if it be drank every morning to the quantity of four or five ounces, for the space of a month, or longer, it corrects the acrid humours, eases the contractions of the fibres, cools and relaxes the bowels, and by gradually removing the cause, subdues that terrible disorder.”

So it goes on. Asses’ Milk likewise cures gout, epilepsy, scurvy, elephantiasis, and “such as are infected with a venereal taint.” To some extent it can even rejuvenate the old!

Now, it must not be thought that any old Ass will do. Far from it:

“A milch Ass ought to be quite free from any disorder, not very old, but of middle age, neither too fat nor too lean, and may be esteemed the better if she bring her foal in the month of May.”

So, choose your Ass carefully. Obviously she should be healthy, and apparently it helps if she is brushed and combed every morning, perhaps “because the use of the curry-comb increases perspiration, and cleanses the humours.” She should be given river water to drink, rather than spring water, and great care should be taken over what she eats. This is because the diet of your milch ass bears a close relation to the effectiveness of her milk in curing various diseases:

“Wherefore I should advise that a milch Ass be fed with such herbs as in themselves are known proper for the diseases you would relieve. In a consumption, and diseases of the lungs and breast, let her be supplied with veronica, ground ivy, the blind or dead nettle, colts-foot, scurvy-grass; or, if you want to restore the vigour of the solids, with sanicula, tansey, nummularia, consolida-major, flowers of St John’s-wort, alchimilla, polygonum, and the like; or let the creature be drove to places where these plants abound.”

So, you’d better have your Observers Book of British Flora and Herbs handy when you drive your milch ass out to pasture, or you might end up curing the wrong diseases!

Mr Hoffman goes on to give details of how and when and in what quantities Asses’ Milk should be taken for the greatest effect. It is much more effective in spring and summer “when all the herbs are full of juices, and greatly enrich the milk.” It is best drunk warm, and in the mornings on an empty stomach. But please note, it is probably best not to exceed a dosage of three pints.

However, there are times when Asses’ Milk should not be prescribed. For example:

“…to those who, either through neglect of bleeding, or a total suppression of the discharge of the piles, or the menses, are afflicted with a too great and unnatural share of blood, and consequently with a foulness of the humours…For unless the excess of blood be reduced by moderate bleeding, and the faulty digestion amended by medicines that correct the whole mass of fluids, all sorts of milk must be avoided, as extremely hurtful and dangerous.”

You have been warned!