By Josselin Brémaud
People have been consuming camel piss on the Arabian Peninsula for a long, long time. It’s been used by the Bedouin people as a shampoo and medicine for centuries, and it’s part of Muslim tradition as well; the Prophet Mohammed is said to have once told some of his sick followers to drink camel milk and pee “till their bodies became healthy.”
Since the seventh century, Yemenis have been following his advice. Statistics about camel urine use are rare, but if you spend any time in Yemen you’ll find some people, mostly in the countryside, who drink urine as a cure for whatever ails them. Some salons use it as a remedy for hair loss, and it’s even occasionally prescribed by some doctors.
Researchers in Muslim countries have lately been trying to lend some scientific basis to the claims that drinking piss will cure diseases. In February, a team from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, claimed they had extracted a substance called PMF701 from camel urine that could be used to treat cancer. Similar claims were made by the same researchers in 2009, when they said they’d seen evidence that camel milk and pee could fight eczema and psoriasis.
They were never given permission from the Saudi Food and Drug Authority to conduct more studies on patients, however, and there have been plenty of scientists and doctors in the region who have publicly denounced the practice of sipping camel pee. Lecturers from Sana’a University, in Yemen’s capital, have gone out of their way to remind people that quaffing urine is bad for your digestive system, and Dr. Rida Al-Wakil, a professor at a medical school in Egypt, told Alrai, an Arabic-language newspaper in Kuwait, that ads for camel urine treatments for hepatitis were “misleading” and potentially dangerous.
While recently near Ta’izz, Yemen’s third-largest city, I decided to see what all the fuss was about for myself. According to herders I spoke to, pee from virgin female camels is highly prized for its delicate taste and curative powers, and can cost up to the equivalent of $20 for a single liter. I went with nonvirgin urine—for the equivalent of about $4, I got a fresh liter of it from a camel herder named Ahmed and took a long drink.
The taste of warm piss is, as you would expect, disgusting. But when it’s mixed with camel milk, as it traditionally is, it’s even worse. Getting rid of the musky aftertaste that takes over your mouth after the first sip is impossible. It didn’t make me feel any healthier, but it didn’t make me sicker either.