Milk is usually considered as cooling, nutritive, strengthening and infact a very vitalising food. It Is also demulcent (soothing) and emollient (softening).
To appreciate the action of milk in the body, it is relevant to enquire as to how bacteria act upon the milk. Bacterial action destroys milk by fermentation and putrefaction. Fermentation or what is usually called as souring is the usual change and this consists in breaking down of the lactose sugar of the milk to lactic acid which on its turn precipitates and thus separates casein.
If this souring is carried out by non pathogenic viz. non-disease causing bacteria, it is very salutary and the product then becomes a healthy food. Putrefaction or downright rotting by bacteria specially meant for the milk for this purpose is however less common. This consists of the precipitation of the casein followed by peptonising the curd. This occurs usually in boiled milk in which spore forming rod like bacteria or the bacilli as they are called or the hay bacteria that dwell in the surrounding hay of the cowshed become introduced. Putrefaction means destruction or decomposition of molecules accompanied with the release of a foul smell. As such this turns out to be poisonous and unfit for human consumption.
Kumiss and kefir are the alcoholic beverages made from milk by introducing alcohol producting yeast cells in it. These arc somewhat intoxicating drinks common in some European countries. Kumiss is specially a Rusian drink produced by fermenting mare’s milk; the term kumiss is a Tartar word. We shall now consider the qualities of milk from different animal sources.
Cow’s milk is a demulcent (soothing), nutrient liquid food. This promotes strengthening of the body and an improvement in the power of memory. It is a tonic to the heart, very pleasing and wholesome and condusive to longevity of life and to an increase in the secretion of semen and is thus a desirable aphrodisiac also. The chief drawback of milk is its difficult digestibility and also a rather constipative effect. Boiling milk kills the harmful germs in it but increases its constipative efficacy. This can be however counteracted by eating bread along with such milk. Ten ounce of bread taken with a pint of skimmed milk constitutes a nutritious lunch that can act as a third of the nutrient needed by an adult for the whole day.
Ayurveda has extensive references for the uses of milk and its various products. These will be considered later. It is pertinent here to include an interesting information it provides. This is the categorisation of milk in accordance with the colour of the skin of the cow from which the individual milk is extracted. Milk of black cow is very wholesome and good in diseases due to Data. Milk of yellow cow is good for the diseases of vata and pitta. Milk of white cow is heavy for digestion and aggravates the vitiation of kapha.
Milk of red cows and those that have a speckled (i.e. spotled) skin is good in the diseases of vata. Milk of small hilly cows is more oily and heavy for digestion. It is relevant to note here that cows in hilly regions are mostly of small build; the heavily built cows are essentially the cows of the plains. Milk of cows that eat rather scantily is heavy for digestion, increases the vitation of kapha but is really a very good tonic. In general, milk of cows with calves living is good while the milk of cows whose calves are no longer living is bad. And, milk of cows who have calved long ago is a good tonic and checks or regulates the vitations of all the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha. There is a persistent but an erroneous belief in South India that the fat content of cow’s milk is mimical to child’s’ health and gives rise to enlargement of liver and spleen.
Buffaloe’s milk is sweeter than the cow’s milk. It is heavier for digestion, more oily, refrigerant (i.e. cooling), demulcent (soothing), stimulant to heart, and aphrodisiac. But it is also phlegmatic (i.e. increasing the aggravation of kapha) and also somewhat hypnotic (i.e. inducing sleep). When taken in large quantities, it definitely induces a sleepiness and in addition spoils appetite and brings in cold as well. This does not agree with some persons; it causes a purging in them. It contains more fat than the cow’s milk and is consequently heavier. There is another erroneous belief here that feeding infants with buffaloe’s milk is better avoided as it is likely to cause catarrh or a running discharge in the respiratory tract.
Actually however, it is really of greater value, easily obtainable and often cheaper, contains plenty of cream and when prepared properly it is an ideal substitute for human milk and much better than the cow’s milk. For this purpose buffaloe’s milk should be diluted by adding water to the tune of l/3rd of its volume and its natural deficiency of sugar should also be rectified by adding one teaspoonful of sugar to every ounce of the milk so prepared. Given in this way, it forms the ideal substitute for the breast milk to the infants. For older babies however – say, of six months and after, buffaloe’s milk can be given as such without any dilution whatsoever and in quantities of four ounces twice or thrice a day.
Goat’s milk is sweet, cooling, astringent (i.e. causing a contracting effect in the living tissues and hence aiding in healing) but constipative. It is however very invigorative or energising and actively promotes appetite and digestion. It may be recalled that Mahatma Gandhi was full of praise for goat’s milk and he had always nuturing goats in his Ashram. Maintenance of goat’s is almost cost free as its feed is just anything that is available easily.
Ewe’s milk is saltish, heating and oily and is also not easily digested. Its fat content is 6.18 per cent. Its use causes eye troubles but it is good for hair growth. It is also likely to cause ulcers on tongue, lips and gums.
Mare’s milk is saltish and somewhat saury. But it is strengthening, stimulative, and demulcent or cooling. It also alleviates the aggravation of the vitiations of both kapha and vata. It has been recorded that moghuls were using this milk more just as the Arabs were more habituated to use the camels milk.
Ass’s milk is saltish and easily digestible. It is also a heart stimulant and good for stomach. It counteracts the aggravation of kapha. Historically ass’s milk had been a cosmetic article in the sense that its cream was used for a facial uplift and more importantly beautiful queens like Cleopatra of Egypt were using ass’s milk for bathing purposes in the belief that it was very wholesome to the health, the complexion and the beauty of skin.
Camel’s milk is light, sweet, slightly salty and laxative. It is easily digestible and also acts as a stimulative. It is good for stomach.
Sheep’s milk is alleviative of the aggravation of phlegm and bile or kapha and pitta.
Elephant’s milk is sweetish, astringent, muscle building and heavy. It fattens, increases vigour and augments strength.
Some qualitative differences are also noticeable in the milks depending upon the time of milking the animal. The milk taken out in early morning has the cooling effect of night on the animals as also their lack of exercise during the nights. This milk is heavy, constipative and refrigerant or cooling. The milk taken out during the evening has the effect of the animals that are warmed due to physical exercises during the day. This milk relieves rheumatism and fatigue. It is good for the eyes.
Raw milk (excluding the human milk) is heavy, but the boiled milk becomes lighter and more easily digestible. But the former becomes contaminated very soon and should therefore be kept carefully.
In some persons milk causes constipation while in others it will result in outright diarrhoea. Pure milk diet in Indian patients of diarrhoea is contra-indicated.
Similar variations in the qualities of the milk products is also traceable depending upon the animals concerned. Butter from cow’s milk is tonic, good for the heart, stimulative, energising and good for the stomach as well.
For many medicinal preparations, especially for those that are meant for the eye, butter from the cow’s milk is preferred. Butter from buffaloe’s milk is sweetish, astringent, refrigerant and soothing. It augments semen production and alleviates both pitta and vata troubles.