Asafetida (Ferula foetida)

Identification: Asafetida is the gummy dried juice of a large Asiatic perennial plant. The large fleshy root is covered with bristly fibers and produces a stem reaching up to 10 feet high. The leaves are alternate, pinnately compound on wide, sheathing petioles. The flowers are pale greenish-yellow. They grow at the top of the stem in clusters of compound, many-rayed umbels. The fruit is oval, flat, thin, and reddish brown.

Habitat: Grows wild in huge natural forests. Indigenous to Iran, Afghanistan and in the north of India. Also found in central United States.

Family: Umbelliferae (Parsley Family)

Other Names: A wei (Chinese name), Devil’s Dung, Ferula, Food of the Gods, Hing (Sanskrit name).

Parts Used: Milky juice from roots of 4-year-old plants.

History: Asafetida gets its name from the Persian aza, for mastic or resin, and the Latin foetidus, for stinking. Early records mention that Alexander the Great carries this “stink finger” west in 4 BC. It was used as a spice in ancient Rome, and although not native to India, it has been used in Indian medicine and cooking for ages. It was believed that asafetida enhanced singers voices. In the days of the Mughal aristocracy, the court singers of Agra and Delhi would eat a spoonful of asafetida with butter and practice on the banks of the river Yamuna. Afghan people would rub small chunks of asafetida over their boots to keep away deadly snakes or vipers.

As the name suggests, asafetida has a fetid smell and a nauseating taste; characteristics that also burdened it with the name Devil’s Dung. In the Middle Ages, a small piece of the gum was worn around the neck to ward off disease. This was probably due to the stinky smell rather than any medicinal property.

Constituents: Essential oil, resin ferulic acid, glue, sec-butyl-propenyl, disulfide, farnesiferol, bassorin, sulphate of lime, carbonate of lime, oxide of iron, alumina, and malate of lime.

Medicinal Properties:
Properties: Analgesic, anthelmintic, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, digestive, expectorant, laxative, sedative, nervine.

Main Uses: It stimulates the circulation by raising the arterial tension, increasing the power of the cardiac motor ganglia. It also stimulates the brain, even to a very pleasant intoxication, and produces a subjective sensation of warmth without any rise of the body temperature. It stimulates the secretions and excretions, the general nervous system, the menstrual flow and the sexual drive. In Asia it is used as a condiment with food, and though extremely nauseous at first to most people, a taste for it may be acquired.

Asafetida is a useful antidote for flatulence. It is also claimed to be useful for the treatment of bronchitis and hysteria. It is used for stomach pains and as a headache remedy.

Asafetida prevents insect bites: It repels mosquitoes, gnats, and other insect. It is described as the ultimate insect repellant. (Even more effective if you add some garlic to the mixture.)

Preparation & Dosages: In June the roots of the 4-year-old plants which have not flowered, are cut to collect the milky juice. This dries to a brownish, gummy substance which is divided into lumps or powdered.

Powder: Because of the nauseating taste, it is usually taken in pills.

Tincture: Put 2 oz of the root powder in 6 oz alcohol; let stand for 2 weeks and shake once daily. Strain and pour the liquid into another bottle suitable for storage. Use 15 to 20 drops in 6 fluid oz water or other liquid for severe pains and similar gastrointestinal distresses.

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