A long-eared Aesculapius

Ok, we’ve got you interested now, we had to look up the word! The word Aesculapius being the Latin name for a god of medicine.  Whilst researching asses’ milk we came across a newspaper with that title as its heading.

The story was about a gentleman who took regular exercise on horseback and whose chief drink was asses’ milk. He was asked by an invalid friend, to whom a doctor was daily administering pills and potions, how he managed to keep in such excellent health. The gentleman’s reply was ‘my physician is a horse and my apothecary an ass’.

Whilst the poor ass was mocked by the public during the Georgian era for its stupidity and with comparison made to the Prince Regent, its milk was proving to be very beneficial.

At a time when more and more of us are becoming interested in nutrition and looking for more ‘superfoods’, it’s good to know that the Georgians were no different in their pursuit of a long and healthy life. Asses’ milk was believed to have a beneficial effect on the body, either to bathe in (Cleopatra style) or to drink. Napoleon’s sister is also reported to have used asses’ milk for her skin’s health care.

Pauline Bonaparte by François Joseph Kinson, 1808.
Pauline Bonaparte by François Joseph Kinson, 1808. Museo Napoleonico

It was highly recommended for gout, scurvy, coughs, colds and asthma, however, even then people were aware of the possibility of intolerance, with people raising the issue of ‘lactose intolerance’ even then, although the term itself wasn’t used and that it might cause stomach problems.

One of the main cures for venereal disease at that time was mercury, but who knew – asses’ milk could relieve the side effects of mercury! It was even recommended for women who were in pain after childbirth. For babies, asses’ milk was recommended if they suffered from wind or diarrhoea. It was even used to bathe in to relieve the pain of haemorrhoids too.

According to Oracle Bell’s New World of 1789, asses’ milk mixed with spa water was exceptionally beneficial.

A Glass of Milk; William Redmore Bigg
A Glass of Milk; William Redmore Bigg; Lancashire County Museum Service

Asses’ milk largely went out of fashion in the late 1790s when Sir John Hill’s Pectoral Balsam of Honey replaced it as a ‘cure for all ills’, as, whilst it looked like asses milk it was more palatable, and people were better able to tolerate it.

For those familiar with Teresa Cornleys, ‘the hostess with the mostest’, ultimately she fell out of favour with the great and the good and ended up in prison On her release, she became known as Mrs Smith seller of asses’ milk, in Knightsbridge. Even during this period of her life, she tried to restore her life to its former glory by hosting breakfasts for the people of fashion.

Certain City Macaronies, Drinking Asses Milk, 1770.
Certain City Macaronies, Drinking Asses Milk, 1770. LWL

In 1799, according to Courier and Evening Gazette:

A Parisian Journal says –

We are assured that a remedy had been discovered for disorders of the breast. His remedy is found at St. Domingo, where it is called the gum of the Bois de Cochon. It is produced from a tree, well known in the ci-devant Spanish part of the island. This gum, reduced to oil, and a coffee cup full taken in a basin of asses’ milk, morning and evening, produces a radical cure, provided the disorder is only at its second stage or even at the third. It procures considerable relief. It is for the faculty to judge of this receipt.

Portrait of Maria Luisa of Spain (1745-1792), Holy Roman Empress.
Portrait of Maria Luisa of Spain (1745-1792), Holy Roman Empress.

The St James’s Chronicle of June 1790 reported that the Queen of Hungary’s health was deteriorating since she arrived in Vienna, so much so that the doctors thought it necessary for her to drink asses’ milk.

Featured Image

The Royal Ass, 1780. Yale Centre for British Art

Sources Used

Observations on the theory and cure of venereal disease by John Andree. 1779

An essay concerning the nature of ailments and the choice of them, according to the different constitutions of human bodies by John Arbuthnot. 1731

An essay on the diseases most fatal to infants by George Armstrong. 1767

Daily Journal, Thursday, April 19, 1722

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3 thoughts on “A long-eared Aesculapius

  1. Jennifer N.

    Admiral Lord Nelson drank asses’ milk each time he came home from sea half-dead. It kept him alive long enough to be killed in battle… although whether it was the milk or the opportunity to rest we’ll never know.

    Hype for asses’ milk is still out there. Recently it has been claimed that asses’ milk is closest in composition to human milk and is beneficial for infants that don’t have access to breast milk and aren’t thriving on formula.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the idea of mixing it with spa water. I have found references to adding brandy to the Bath water, asses milk would certainly be a healthier option but I wonder if it would be as good as covering the flavour of the water (brandy does – I have tried it)

    Like

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