Thursday, July 7, 2011

Milk, Honey, Liver, and Bone Marrow

Ask any Russian grandma, hot milk and honey cures everything from a sore throat to a stomach flu to pneumonia. Some people firmly believe that milk also saves one from food poisoning or any other kind of toxic exposure. While the Western world has deemed lactose intolerance as a well-known digestive issue, the Russkis certainly didn’t get the memo.

I never liked milk because I never felt good after drinking it, but a couple of tablespoons of honey made the cup a torture. To me the two didn’t work together at all – the mixture tasted terrible, unpalatably sweet, thick, and overwhelming. But I got sick a lot during those long and cold Russian winters so I was forced to consume liters and liters of the concoction, working hard not to throw up in the process. I don’t think it bestowed any effect on me aside from gastronomical misery, but my family firmly believed in its syrupy magic. It still tasted better than another horrible folk remedy fusion – milk with a whipped raw egg. That witch’s brew was supposed to chase away your cold. And perhaps replace it with Salmonella.

I was fifteen when I had terrible laryngitis and completely lost my voice – a day before a school play in which I had a major part. In utter devastation, I tried every remedy I knew – from hot mustard patches to vodka shots. Nothing worked.

“Have you tried milk and garlic?” my friend asked on the phone. “Huh?” I wheezed back at her. “Never heard of that crap. How does it work?”

Five minutes later, I was peeling cloves and grinding them to mush. When I scored half a cup, I heat up milk, mixed the two together, and stared into the mug in sheer horror. The potion was mind-boggling and smelled disgusting. Yet my future stardom was on the line. It was worth the experiment.

I don’t know how I forced down my fantasy drink because it tasted like poison. It must’ve been one for it certainly killed a bunch of germs in my throat, and very fast too. I regained my voice in less than five minutes. It was kind of hoarse and gruff, but it was still a voice!

There were some weird health-inducing substances I liked though. My grandmother used to split chicken bones after they cooked in her soup, scoop out the bone marrow, and feed it to me. She said it produced red blood cells, so I, a skinny pale kid who looked like an anemic loser, could benefit from some. She had a similar belief about boiled liver – it raised hemoglobin, and mine was low. I didn’t mind either one, there was something appealing in both; perhaps they indeed possessed some nutrients my body needed.

My American family makes fun of my childhood-acquired tastes. To this day, I like cracking poultry bones for the dark-brown substance. And I always fork out the little juicy bit when I order Osso Buco. Foie gras and terrines remain my guilty pleasures, for which I get a fair share of nagging from my animal-loving friends. Russians still believe that chicken and goose livers clean out and “beef up” your own. Perhaps this is my excuse. Oh yeah, and the low hemoglobin too.


  1. I’ve tried all sorts of coughing syrups, believe me, but none of them helps. Even though Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa does not eliminates the cough I like to stick to this chinese syrup I’ve been taking since I was a kid: Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa. My grandfather is chinese, so I guess my mom got the advice from him. I was really surprised when I found that chinese market selling it here in Belgium. It does have a refreshing, soothing, sweetening effect…as long as it lasts…then back to coughing mode.

  2. My German mom used to give us hot milk with honey when we kids couldn't sleep. I'd forgotten about that. But I liked the taste. It's amazing that the garlic/milk concoction worked so fast. Good thing - you wouldn't want a second dose of that! :) A Chinese doctor once told me that in China they believe if the medicine doesn't taste awful it doesn't work.

  3. Lina, what a great post! You grossed me out on so many levels. ;-) I think the garlic milk was the one that will always stick in my mind. I can't even imagine how revolting that would have tasted. But hey, it worked!

  4. Lisa, I’m a big believer in Chinese medicine, especially in everything ginseng. I will add that syrup name to my list.

    Hmm Heidi, now I wonder who invented milk and honey first – the Russians or the Germans? By the way, I think the Russians entertain the same idea – if the medicine isn’t painful it doesn’t work. It is almost like you need to be punished for being sick.