(Last Updated on : 31-01-2014)
Ferula asafetida Linn.
Indian names are as follows:
Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Urdu:
Malayalam and Tamil:
The more important ferula oleo gum resins imported into India, chiefly from Iran and Afghanistan, are  asafoetida,  galbanum and  sumbal. Of these, asafoetida is the most important. A part of the imported resin is re-exported from India to various countries after further processing. The trade name of asafoetida is based on the scientific name of the related species, 'Ferula asafoetida'. Asafoetida worth crores is imported annually into India for domestic consumption and re-export. Surprisingly enough, very few of the consumers are aware of what substance it is, to what extent it is pure and whether it could be produced in India to the extent of our becoming at least self-sufficient.
Asafoetida is extracted from the Ferula plants which have massive taproots or carrot-shaped roots, 12.5 to 15 cm in diameter at the crown when they are 4 to 5 years old. Just before the plants flower, in March-April, the upper part of the living rhizome/root is laid bare and the stem cut off close to the crown. A dome shaped structure made of twigs and earth covers the exposed surface. A milky juice exudes from the cut surface. After some days, the exudates are scraped off and a fresh slice of the root cut when more latex exudes; sometimes the resin is removed along with the slice. The collection of the resin and the slicing of the root are repeated until exudation ceases [about 3 months after the first cut]. The resin is sometimes collected from successive incisions made at the junction of the stem or rhizome and the taproots. With three incisions, some plants have been reported to yield about 1 kg or more gum resins.
Asafoetida is acrid and bitter in taste and emits a strong disagreeable, pungent, alliaceous odor due to the presence of sulfur compounds therein. Hence its common name abroad, is 'Devil's dung'. Asafoetida has an extremely strong flavour so it is mixed with starch and gum and converted and sold as compounded asafoetida mostly in bricket form. It's powdered form is also available in the market.
Asafoetida is commonly found in three forms, such as 'tears', 'mass' and 'paste'. The first being the tears which constitute the purest form of the resin and are rounded or flattened in shape, 5 to 30 mm in diameter and dull yellow or grayish in color. The two types are distinguished by their colour,wherein it is seen whether the tears retain the original pale color for years or gradually become dark or reddish brown. The common commercial form is Mass asafetida. It consists of tears converted into a more or less uniform mass usually mixed with fragments of root, earth etc. The paste form also contains extraneous matter.
There are several varieties of asafoetida, which come under different classification and are priced accordingly. There are two major varieties of asafoetida, namely  Hing and  Hingra. Hingra is said to be inferior to Hing, which is richer in odor and is the most fancied. Hing is further classified as 'Irani Hing' and 'Pathani Hing', according to their country of origin, the former being from Iran, and the latter from Afghanistan. Among them, again, there are several varieties. Of these, 'Hadda' is the most priced and the strongest. The two varieties of Irani asafoetida are 'Sweet' and 'Bitter' asafoetida. Horizontal cutting of the stem gives us sweet asafoetida. Its color is brown, is transparent or turbid, and contains pieces of stem. Cutting of the plant root gives us bitter asafoetida. No pieces of wood exist in it. It is similar to amber colored separated grains or dough of white and red color.
The two broadly recognized classes of asafoetida sold in the market with which most of the consumers may be familiar, are the white or pale variety and the dark or black variety. The former is water-soluble and the latter is oil soluble. Chemically both are reported to be the same. Asafoetida is an oleo gum- resin. Where the gum portion preponderates, as in Hing, it is water soluble, and where the resin portion preponderates, as in Hingra, it is oil soluble.
The components to which asafoetida owes its characteristic odor, reside in the oil portion and are believed to be due to two classes of compounds. One of them is ferulic ester and the other - the more important one - is a volatile oil consisting of different sulfur compounds, some of them are found in garlic and onion. Briefly, Hingra is the exudates of Ferula foetida Regel., while Hing is the exudates of Ferula asafoetida Linn.
Asafoetida contains resin:40 to 64 %
volatile oil:10 to 17 %
ash:1.5 to 10 %
The resin portion consists chiefly of asaresinotennol, free or combined with ferulic acid. Umbelliferone seems to be present in the combined state. An analysis of asafoetida shows that it consists carbohydrates 67.8 per cent per 100 gms, moisture 16.0 per cent, protein 4.0 per cent, fat 1.1 per cent, minerals 7.0 per cent and fibre 4.1 per cent. Its mineral and vitamin contents include substantial calcium besides phosphorus, iron, carotene, riboflavin and niacin. Its calorific value is 297.
According to the latest amendment of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 amended up to date, the definition for Hing or Hingra and Bandhani Hing is as under
Asafoetida [Hing or Hingra]
means the oleo gum resin obtained from the rhizome and roots of Ferula alliaces, Ferula rubricaulis and other species of Ferula. It should not contain any colophony resin, galbonum resin, ammoniaccum resin or any other foreign resin.
or compounded asafoetida is composed of one or more varieties of asafoetida [Irani or Pathani Hing or both] and gum Arabic, edible starches or edible cereal flour. It should not contain colophony resin, galbonum resin, ammoniaccum resin or any other foreign resin, coal tar dyes, and mineral pigment.
The quality and flavor of asafoetida are affected by a number of factors such as part of the plant from which prepared, the season of collection, the method of preparation, the degree of adulteration, and the nature of adulterant used.
The oil of asafoetida is obtained by steam distillation of the gum resin. Yield varies from 3 to 20 per cent. The chief constituent of the oil is secondary butylpropenyl disulfide; the
remaining constituents are other disulfides, a trisulfide, pinene, another terpene and an unidentified compound. The disagreeable odor of the oil is reported to be mainly due to the disulfide. The oil has not attended any commercial importance. The flavoring and pharmaceutical industries employ chiefly alcoholic tinctures of the gum resin.
Asafoetida is extensively used in India for flavoring curries, sauces and pickles in conjunction with garlic and onion. In Iran, the natives rub asafoetida on warmed plates prior to placing meat on them.
Studies have shown that asafoetida oil has anti-biotic properties and inhibits growth of microbes, asafoetida has sedative properties and its possible use in heart disease has been suggested.
In various medicinal systems practiced in India, asafoetida is considered as effective remedies for many diseases and disorders. In Ayurvedic and Unani systems it is suggested it must be consumed only after frying in ghee [clarified butter] from cows milk. It is also applied elaborately in folk system and Siddha. Number Indian dishes are also prepared with asafoetida as an important ingredient. Therefore asafoetida is considered popular in India both as input to food as well as medicine. In spite of the situation above, bulk of asafoetida is still being imported. It is reported a small quantity is being cultivated in Kashmir, which shows there is possibility to grow this plant in India at least up to self-sufficiency.
In Bhagawat Purana, it has been mentioned that around the abode of Lord Shiva a lot of Hing plant grows. The abode of the Lord is in Kailash Mountain supposed to be in modern Tibet, now in China. This shows it is possible to grow good quality Hing or asafoetida along the Himalayas. The fact that it grows well in Kashmir even today proves this point. Therefore it is possible to plan cultivation of this plant not only in Kashmir but also in Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, North Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and other areas having identical environmental situation.
Even if the present situation of importing bulk of asafoetida continues there is still a scope to utilize this resource for rural economic development. That is so because India has unique position of having knowledge of certain effective recipe for both medicinal and gastronomic applications, which are not only effective but also popular. They may be further popularized to link them to global value chain. The possibility of growth can be further enhanced if cultivation were planned simultaneously.
Benefits of Asafoetida
Amongst indigenous medicines from the earliest times in India Asafoetida has been held in great esteem. Asafoetida expels wind from the stomach and counteracts any spasmodic disorders. It is also a nervine stimulant, digestive agent and a sedative.
Asafoetida is also used in the treatment of respiratory disorders like whooping cough, asthma and bronchitis. About 3 to 6 centigrams of this gum, mixed with 2 teaspoons of honey, a quarter teaspoon of white onion juice and I teaspoon of betel leaf juice, taken thrice daily would keep the patient away from such disorders.
The herb is an excellent medecine for hysteria. Inhalation of this gum prevents hysterical attacks. An emulsion made by 2 grams of the gum with 120 ml of water is a valuable enema per rectum in treating hysteria, when oral dosage not advisable.
The herb is also used in the treatment of impotency. About 6 centigrams of asafoetida should be fried in ghee and mixed with honey and a teaspoon of fresh latex of banyan tree. This mixture should be taken once daily for 40 days before sunrise. It is also considered a specific medicine for spermatorrhoea and premature ejaculation.
Nervous disorders of children are also treated with this particular herb. Europeans believe that a small piece of this gum, hung around a child's neck, would protect it from many diseases, especially germs which are sensitive to the pungent odor.
The herb is considered effective in treating many gynaecological problems in women such as sterility, unwanted abortion, pre-mature labor, unusually painful, difficult and excessive menstruation and leucorrhoea. About 12 centigrams of gum fried in ghee mixed with 120 grams of goat's fresh milk and a tablespoon of honey, should be given thrice daily for a month. It increases the secretion of progesterone hormone.
Asafoetida is also beneficial for women after childbirth. Owing to its anti flatulent and digestive properties, the herb can be taken with beneficial results during the post-delivery period.
Stomach disorders are also effectively cured by this herb. It is one of the best remedies available for flatulence and most digestive powders contain generous amount of asafoetida in them.
In case of flatulence and distension of the stomach, asafoetida should be dissolved in hot water and a pad of cloth steeped in it may be used for compressing the abdomen.
Asafoetida is also used for relieving toothache. After being pestled in lemon juice, it is slightly heated. A cotton piece, soaked in the lotion and placed in the cavity of the tooth, relieves pain quickly.
Asafoetida fried in ghee is administered either as a solution, emulsion or, pills. The dose is 39 to 90 centigrams. The solution is made by thoroughly mixing 20 grams of the gum with half a litre of hot water. The dosage for adults is one to two tablespoons and one-fourth to half for children.
Other Uses of Asafoetida
Antidote of Opium:
This herb is also an antidote of opium. If a person takes equal quantity of asafoetida and opium the effect of the opium will be countered The gum resin is relished as a condiment in India and Iran where it is used to flavor curries, meatballs. It is, used in Europe and the United States in perfumes and for flavoring. The whole plant is used as a fresh vegetable.