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Alexander von Humboldt: „On the Milk of the Cow Tree, and on Vegetable Milk in general“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <https://humboldt.unibe.ch/text/1818-Sur_le_Lait-05-neu> [abgerufen am 25.05.2024].

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Titel On the Milk of the Cow Tree, and on Vegetable Milk in general
Jahr 1818
Ort Sherborne
Nachweis
in: The Weekly Entertainer 58 (10. August 1818), S. 631–633.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Schmuck: Initialen.
Identifikation
Textnummer Druckausgabe: III.56
Dateiname: 1818-Sur_le_Lait-05-neu
Statistiken
Seitenanzahl: 3
Zeichenanzahl: 6116

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|631|

On the Milk of the Cow Tree, and on Vegetable Milk ingeneral. by m. humboldt.

M. Humboldt and his companions, in the course of their travels,heard an account of a tree which grows in the valleys ofAragua, the juice of which is a nourishing milk, and which, fromthat circumstance, has received the name of the cow tree. As themilky juices of plants are in general acrid, bitter, and even poisonous,M. Humboldt was at first scarcely disposed to credit the account,but experience proved it to be correct. The tree in its general aspect resembles the chrysophyllum cainito;its leaves are oblong, pointed, leathery, and alternate, marked withlateral veins, projecting downwards, they are parallel, and are teninches long. M. Humboldt had no opportunity of seeing the flower; |632|the fruit is somewhat fleshy, and contains one or sometimes two nuts.When incisions are made into the trunk, it discharges abundantly aglutinous milk, moderately thick, without any acridness, and exhal-ing an agreeable balsamic odour. The travellers drank considerablequantities of it without experiencing any injurious effects: its viscidityonly rendering it rather unpleasant. The superintendant of theplantation assured them that the negroes acquire flesh during theseason in which the cow tree yields the greatest quantity of milk. When this fluid is exposed to the air, perhaps, in conquence of theabsorption of the oxygen of the atmosphere, its surface becomescovered with membranes of a substance that appears to be of a decidedanimal nature, yellowish, thready, and of a cheesy consistence.These membranes, when separated from the more aqueous part of thefluid, are almost as elastic as caoutchouc; but at the same time theyare as much disposed to become putrid as gelatine. The nativesgive the name of cheese to a coagulum, which is separated by thecontact of the air; in the course of five or six days, it becomes sour.The milk, kept for some time in a corked phial, had deposited a littlecoagulum, and still exhaled its balsamic odour. If the recent juicebe mixed with cold water, the coagulum is formed in smallquantity only; but the separation of the viscid membranes occurswhen it is placed in contact with nitric acid. This remarkable tree seems to be peculiar to the Cordilliere duLittoral, especially from Barbula to the lake of Maracaybo. Thereare likewise some traces of it near the village of San Mateo; and,according to the account of M. Bredmeyer, in the valley of Caucagua,three days journey to the east of the Caraccas. This naturalist haslikewise described the vegetable milk of the cow tree as possessingan agreeable flavour and an aromatic odour: the natives of Caucaguacalled it the milk tree. M. Humboldt offers some general observations upon the milkyjuices of plants, and concludes with some particular observationsupon the fluid which is procured from the carica papaya: thishas been analyzed by M. Vauquelien; but the specimen which heexamined had had its properties altered by having been conveyed to agreat distance, and kept for a long time. The younger is the fruit of the papaw, the more milk does it yield;in proportion as the fruit ripens, the milk, which is less abundant,becomes more watery: there is then less of that animal matter whichcoagulable by acids and by the absorption of oxygen. When nitric acid is poured drop by drop into the milky juice procured froma very young fruit, a very extraordinary phenomenon is observed. Inthe centre of each drop there is formed a gelatinous pellicule, dividedby greyish striæ; these striæ are merely the juice which is renderedmore watery, because the contact of the acid has caused it to lose itsalbumen. At the same time the centre of the pellicule becomes opa-que, and of the colour of the yolk of the egg; while it increases inbulk by the prolongation of the diverging fibres. The whole fluid atfirst has the appearance of an agate with milky clouds; and it appears |633|as if organic membranes were produced under the eye. When the coa-gulum is moved, it becomes granulated like soft cheese; the yellow co-lour is reproduced by adding a few more drops of nitric acid. The acidin this case acts in the same manner with the oxygen of the atmos-phere, at the temperature of from 80·5 to 95 deg (Far.); for the whitecoagulum becomes yellow in two or three minutes by exposure tothe sun. After some hours, the yellow colour turns brown, un-doubtedly because the carbon is more liberated in proportion as thehydrogen, with which it was combined, is burned. The coagulumformed by the acid becomes viscid, and acquires the waxy odour,which is perceived when the muscular fibre or fungi are treated withnitric acid. From the interesting experiments of Mr. Hatchett, itmay be supposed that in this case the albumen is partially convertedto the state of gelatine. When the coagulum of the papaw is thrown into water, it softens,becomes partially dissolved, and gives the water a yellowish tinge;the milk, when placed in contact with water, also forms membranes;a tremulous jelly, similar to starch is immediately precipitated,and the appearance is more remarkable if we employ water atthe temperature of from about 100 deg. to 140 deg. (Far.) Ifcarbonate of soda be added to the fluid, the coagulum is not formed;but it is immediately produced by the addition of an acid. If wecompare together the milky juices of the papaw, the cow tree, andthe hævea caoutchouc we find a striking resemblance between thejuices which abound in caseous matter, and those in which thecaoutchouc predominates. According to the opinion of M. Gay-Lussac, we may consider the caoutchouc as analogous to the oilypart or the butter of the vegetable milk; in the vegetable milkwe find caseum and caoutchouc; in animal milk, caseum and butter.The albuminous and the oily principles, exist in different proportionsin the different species of animals and milky plants; and in thelast, they are frequently united to other substances which render theminjurious as articles of food.