Donkey milk

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Foal drinking milk from its mother.

Donkey milk (or ass milk) is the milk given by the domesticated ass or donkey. It has been used since Egyptian antiquity for both alimentary and cosmetic reasons.

General points[edit]

A female ass gives between 0.2 to 0.3 litres of milk a day.[citation needed] The milk of a donkey was disapproved[clarification needed] by the U.S.D.A until 2001. A donkey dairy farm may range from a few to over 600 animals.[1]


Donkey milk, along with mare’s milk, is the closest to breast milk,[2] with notably low lipid ratios and high lactose ratios.[3]

Composition of donkey’s, mare’s, human and cow’s milk (g/100 g)[3]
composition donkey mare human cow
pH 7.0 – 7.2 7.18 7.0 – 7.5 6.6 – 6.8
Protein g/100g 1.5 – 1.8 1.5 – 2.8 0.9 – 1.7 3.1 – 3.8
Fat g/100g 0.3 – 1.8 0.5 – 2.0 3.5 – 4.0 3.5 – 3.9
Lactose g/100g 5.8 – 7.4 5.8 – 7.0 6.3 – 7.0 4.4 – 4.9
Total Solids (TS) g/100 g 8.8-11.7 9.3-11.6 11.7-12.9 12.5-13.0
Casein Nitrogen (CN) g/100 g 0.64-1.03 0.94-1.2 0.32-0.42 2.46-2.80
Whey protein g/100 g 0.49-0.80 0.74-0.91 0.68-0.83 0.55-0.70
NPN g/100 g 0.18-0.41 0.17-0.35 0.26-0.32 0.1-0.19
Casein Nitrogen (CN) % 47.28 50 26.06 77.23
Whey protein % 36.96 38.79 53.52 17.54
NPN % 15.76 11.21 20.42 5.23

Donkey milk is similar to mare milk and human breast milk in that it is relatively poor in protein and fat but rich in lactose. The casein to whey protein ratio is intermediate between human breast milk and cow milk. Gross composition of milk differs by the mother's lactation stage, with ash and protein content showing a declining trend, but pH, percentage of whey protein, and amino acid content remaining the same.[4]

Alimentary use[edit]

Donkey milk is considered to be the closest to woman’s milk.[5][2] It is very nourishing because it contains more lactose and less fat than cow’s milk.[5] It was used until the beginning of the twentieth century as a substitute to breast milk.[6] The 1928 testimony of Dr. Charles Porcher (1872-1933) of the Lyon National Veterinary Institution showed that the practice was still used, to a lesser extent, in the interwar years:

It seems that we are getting back to ass milk to raise children in the earliest infancy, notably when the child is of delicate health. Ass milk has not been quite totally abandoned, but if 25 or 30 years ago, a few well looked-after asses were easily found in the city to provide milk nourishing young babies, it is no longer the case today.[7]

More recently, studies have shown that that ass’s milk could serve as an alternative to cow’s milk for children allergic to bovine proteins.[3][8]

Cosmetic use[edit]

It is said that Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, took baths in donkey milk to preserve the beauty and youth of her skin.[5] Legend has it that no less than 700 donkeys were needed to provide the quantity of milk necessary for her daily bath.[9][10]

This was also the case of Poppaea Sabina (30 – 65), second wife of Roman Emperor Nero, who is referred to in Pliny’s description of the ass milk virtues for the skin:

It is generally believed that ass milk effaces wrinkles in the face, renders the skin more delicate, and preserves its whiteness : and it is a well-known fact, that some women are in the habit of washing their face with it seven times daily, strictly observing that number. Poppaea, the wife of the Emperor Nero, was the first to practise this; indeed, she had sitting-baths, prepared solely with ass milk, for which purpose whole troops of she- asses used to attend her on her journeys.[11]

Pauline Bonaparte (1780–1825), Napoleon’s sister, is also reported to have used ass milk for her skin’s health care.[9]

Ass milk is still used today in the manufacture of soaps and moisturizers.[12]

Medical use[edit]

Ass milk was also formerly used in medicine. Its healing virtues have been known since Antiquity, when doctors would recommend it to cure diverse affections.

Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), the father of medicine, prescribed ass milk for numerous purposes, such as liver troubles, infectious diseases, fevers,[13][14] oedema, nose bleeds, poisonings, and wounds.

In his encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia, volume 28, dealing with remedies derived from animals, Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD) proposed it to fight poisonings, fever, fatigue, eye stains, weakened teeth, face wrinkles, ulcerations, asthma and certain gynecological troubles:

Asses' milk, in cases where gypsum, white-lead, sulphur, or quick-silver, have been taken internally. This last is good too for constipation attendant upon fever, and is remarkably useful as a gargle for ulcerations of the throat. It is taken, also, internally, by patients suffering from atrophy, for the purpose of recruiting their exhausted strength ; as also in cases of fever unattended with head-ache. The ancients held it as one of their grand secrets, to administer to children, before taking food, a semisextarius of asses' milk, or for want of that, goats' milk ; a similar dose, too, was given to children troubled with chafing of the rectum at stool.[5]

In case where persons have swallowed quicksilver, bacon is the proper remedy to be employed. Poisons are neutralized by taking asses' milk ; henbane more particularly, mistletoe, hem- lock, the flesh of the sea-hare, opocarpathon, pharicon, and dorycnium: the same, too, where coagulated milk has been productive of bad effects, for the biestings,' JO or first curdled milk, should be reckoned as nothing short of a poison. We shall have to mention many other uses to which asses' milk is applied ; but it should be remembered that in all cases it must be used fresh, or, if not, as new as possible, and warmed, for there is nothing that more speedily loses its virtue.[11]

When the teeth have been loosened by a blow, they are strengthened by using asses' milk or else ashes of the burnt teeth of that animal, or a horse's lichen, reduced to powder, and injected into the ear with oil.[11]

An ass’s hoof, reduced to ashes and applied with asses' milk, is used for the removal of marks in the eyes and indurations of the crystalline humours.[11]

Ulcerations of the stomach are effectually treated with asses' milk or cows' milk.[11]

asses' milk boiled with bulbs, the whey being the part used, with the addition of nasturtium steeped in water and tempered with honey, in the proportion of one cyathus of nasturtium to three semi-sextarii of whey. The liver or lights of a fox, taken in red wine, or bear's gall in water, facilitate the respiration.[11]

The disease called tenesmus, or in other words, a frequent and ineffectual desire to go to stool, is removed by drinking asses' milk or cows' milk.[11]

If pains are felt in the breasts, they will be alleviated by drinking asses' milk ; and the same milk, taken with honey, has considerable efficacy as an emmenagogue.[11]

Similarly, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, (1707–1788) mentions the benefits of ass milk in his Histoire naturelle: "Ass’s 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 us."[15]

In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a popular folk belief states that donkey milk can aid infants' immune systems and voice development. However doctors have warned nursing mothers against the practise, citing the potential risk of infection.[16][17]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Group Objectives". Eurolactis. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  2. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica: Arts, Science and miscellaneous Literature. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable & Cie. 1823. p. 752. 
  3. ^ a b c Guo, H.Y.; et al. (April 2007). "Composition, physiochemical properties, nitrogen fraction distribution, and amino acid profile of donkey milk.". Journal of Dairy Science (Journal of Dairy Science) 90 (4): 1635–43. doi:10.3168/jds.2006-600. PMID 17369203.  Full text at [1]
  4. ^ H.Y. Guo; K. Pang; X.Y. Zhang; L. Zhao; S.W. Chen; M.L. Dong; F.Z. Ren (April 2007). "Composition, Physiochemical Properties, Nitrogen Fraction Distribution, and Amino Acid Profile of Donkey Milk". Journal of Dairy Science 90 (4): 1635–1643. doi:10.3168/jds.2006-600. PMID 17369203. 
  5. ^ a b c d Chappez, Gérard (2000). L'âne: histoire, mythe et réalité : tiré de Bougres d'ânes. Editions Cabedita. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-2-88295-278-3. 
  6. ^ Brunet, Isabelle; Katy Gawelik (2007). Guide d’initiation à la santé au naturel, vol. 2 (PDF). Editions Abondance. p. 10. 
  7. ^ Fanica, Pierre-Olivier (2008). Le lait, la vache et le citadin. Du XVIIe au XXe siècle. Editions Quae. ISBN 978-2-7592-0114-3. 
  8. ^ Muraro, M.A.; P.G. Giampietro; E. Galli (2002). "Soy formulas and nonbovine milk". Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology). 89 (Supp. 1) (6 Suppl 1): 97–101. PMID 12487214. 
  9. ^ a b "L’âne le meilleur ami de l’homme". L' 2008-07-15. Archived from the original on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  10. ^ Siegel, Jessica (1993). "Asses' milk and Melons". The Record. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Pliny the Elder (1855). The Natural History. BOOK XXVIII. REMEDIES DERIVED FROM LIVING CREATURES. John Bostock. 
  12. ^ A list of online shops selling donkey milk soap.
  13. ^ Hippocrates (1843). The Genuine Work of Hippocrates. Vol. 1. Francis Adams (trans). Sydenham Society. 
  14. ^ "Lait d’ânesse, une véritable fontaine de jouvence". 2006-11-07. 
  15. ^ Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, Georges-Louis (1835). L'Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy. Tome Cinquième. P. Duménil. p. 40. 
  16. ^ Pushpa Narayan (2008-05-06). "Mothers feed newborn babies donkey milk". Times of India. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  17. ^ Mahalingam Ponnusamy (2011-01-25). "Curative' donkey milk in high demand in Chennai". Times of India. Retrieved 2013-03-15.