Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida) is a herbaceous perennial originating from the Middle East, Iran. It's also known under multiple common names, including devil's dung, narthex, food of the gods, hing, kaayam, stinking gum, asant, hilteet, ingua, and giant fennel. Ferula assafoetida belongs to Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) family and is characterized by the distinctive garlic-like smell which made it a popular spice product. Although, when the plant is cooked, this fetid smell is substituted by the flavor resembling the leeks. The plant grows up to two meters high, has thick hollow flowering stems and the cortex with resinous gum content in it. The resin is also present in plant's pulpy root. The tripinnate leaves are arranged on a basal sheath that embraces the stem, and yellowish-green flowers are set into compound umbels and arise from the sheath. Asafoetida thin reddish oval fruits have a milky flavor.
Herb's name is compounded from Persian term for resin, “asa”, and Latin stem “foetida”, which describes its sulfurous odor.
Starting from 16th century the herb got popular not only in cookery, but in the medicine as well.
Typical habitats of ferula assafoetida are Middle Eastern regions (Iran, Turkey) and Afghanistan; the plant favours mountain slopes, sandy deserts and desolate wastes. Although it grows well in most soil types, it prefers deep fertile ground and a good sun exposure. The flowering occurs in some years after asafoetida is planted, and after that it dies.
Root of the plant is a key part of it when it comes to obtaining resin. It is produced from the milk juice after it dries out. The milk juice (obtained from the root), which becomes a brown, resin-like mass after drying. Resin is either sold pure, or mixed into powder with gum arabic and rice flour to prevent lumps.
Two major forms of asafoetida herbal remedies are powder and a tincture. In aromatherapy the essential oil from the plant is being used - it is of an orange or yellow color and often replaces garlic due to the odor similarity.
Asafoetida's chemical content is well represented by minerals, fiber, protein, and vitamins; calcium, iron, phosphorus, carotene, niacin and riboflavin are among those. The plant is known as sedative, tonic, and stimulant. Volatile oils in the plant make it a potent expectorant, laxative, antispasmodic and stimulant remedy. It also works well in a variety of digestive disorders and is considered to be a general gastro-intestinal tract cleanser.
Acting as excitant, asafoetida provokes mucous feces, increases libido, quickens breathing and the heart rate.
Not hugely popular in Western herbal medicine, asafoetida is a major herb in India and Ayurvedic practice. It is used for treating stomach spasm, intestinal parasites, whooping cough, and other respiratory disorders.
Little medical research is available to prove the health properties of the herb, but common use reports asafoetida's effectiveness for the following conditions:
Digestive disorders. The plant extract strengthens digestive tracts and acts as general stomach tonic. Its laxative properties are useful for the patients with colics, flatulence, and indigestion (both in adults in children). Intestinal gases often influence irritable bowel syndrom, so the oil of asafoetida is known to reduce irritation in this condition as well.
Nervous system conditions. Asafoetida is known for treating some cases of hysteria. In fact, in 19th century it was the most common remedy for this condition, as well as for the depression and mood swings. Emulsion based on the gum provides sedative effect and prevents anxiety and emotional disorders.
Respiratory conditions. Bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma symptoms, and post-pneumonia conditions are well treated by asafoetida. It stimulates the mucous release and easens the symptoms of inflammation. Enhancing the expectorating power, the herb is particularly useful for the eldery and children.
Insects Bites. Deodorant properties of asafoetida protect human body from insect attacks. Adding garlic to the mixture makes this kind of repellent even more effective. In Afganistan people rub asafoetida over their body to stay away from poisonous snakes and vipers.
Other uses. In addition to the mentioned, asafoetida is used in such conditions as menstrual disorders, headaches and dizziness, toothache, impotence, fungal infections and high cholesterol levels.
Some anecdotal cases report on herb's abortifacient properties.
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