The exact origins of Kefir and when humankind first came in contact with it and started cultivating, reproducing and consuming it has been lost to antiquity but what is generally accepted as the history of Kefir is really quite fascinating.
The word Kefir is believed to be derived from the Turkish word "Keif" which describes a state of wellbeing or feeling good and was adapted to name this fermented beverage for its ability make you feel good (which I can certainly attest to).
It is said that the Kefir grains and how to use them was gifted to the people of the Caucasus mountains' by the prophet Muhammad as a gift from god. These people cherished and loved this gift passing the Kefir grains down from generation to generation as part of the wealth of the family or tribe. It is said that Marco Polo describes being given Kefir in the book he wrote about his travels becoming the first European to have encountered this fermented beverage.
While these people would occasionally share this drink with outsiders they refused to part with the Kefir grains or share knowledge of how to make Kefir fearing that they would lose their wealth and become ill as punishment for giving away gods' gift to them.
The secrets of Kefir remained intact until the latter part of the 19th century when Dr. Metchnikoff identified Kefir as one of the key factors in the exceptional longevity and good health enjoyed by the people who consumed this product and brought this news back to Russia and the Russian Physician's Society.
Intrigued with the potential properties of Kefir, the Russian physician's society contracted the brothers Blandov who had land holdings and cheese factories in the Caucasus's with the task of obtaining Kefir Grains on their behalf.
When the inhabitants of the region refused to give up any Kefir Grains, the Blandov brothers devised a plan utilizing a very attractive girl in their employ, Irina Sakharov to bewitch and charm some of the kefir grains out of one of the local tribal princes, Prince Bek-Mirza Barchorov.
The plan backfired the Prince refused to give up any of the magic grains but had become so infatuated with Irina that he proposed marriage with the promise of vast land holdings gold and jewels when Ms. Sakharov refused the proposal she was held captive until a wedding could be arranged. The Blandov brother quickly devised a plan to rescue Irina and bring her back home to Russia.
Once out of harms' way, with the help of the Blandov brothers and the Russian Physicians' Society Ms. Sakharov brought a case against Prince Barchorov to the Czar's court, who ordered the Prince to pay restitution for the distress he caused her. The Prince offered land, gold and jewels which Irina refused and demanded Kefir grains which the Prince reluctantly gave her.
In 1908, Irina Sakharov brought the first Kefir grains ever out of the Caucasus's to Moscow legend has it about 10 pounds, where they were immediately put to use as medicine. In 1973 at the age of 85 Irina received a letter from the Minister of the Food Industry of the former USSR expressing grateful acknowledgement for her role in bring Kefir and its' benefits to the people of Russia.
Kefir was first used as a medicine in Russia starting with treating tuberculosis in sanitariums as well as a treatment for IBS, Crohn's disease, colitis, gastroenteritis, peptic ulcers, gastric cancer atherosclerosis and a variety of other ailments including Diarrhea and chronic constipation. The research into the medicinal properties of Kefir carried out in the former USSR was very extensive however with the fall of the Soviet Union the majority of the research was lost or is simply not being shared.