Asafoetida or asafoetid (Devil's dung) is the dried latex (oleo-gum-resin) exuded from the living rhizome, rootstock or taproot of an unbelliferous plant of varied species.
A popular spice in foods and medicines, being unique in blend and made with finest ingredients, Indian Asafoetida enjoys an exalted positions in the International market.
The two types of Asafoetidas used commonly are white and the dark. Though the composition of both varieties is the same, white Asafoetida is water-soluble while the dark one is fried in the oil and powdered for use in cuisines. Asafoetida is claimed to be an aphrodisiac and a preventive medicine for infectious diseases. It helps digestion and prevents flatulence.
Commercially Indian Asafoetida comes in three forms: tears, mass and paste based on the quality. Another classification names two varieties ; 'Hing, and Hingra' which are again sub-divided on the basis of criteria like place of origin, flavour and colour.
India exports several types of Asafoetida. Major among them are Hing and Hingra, Irani Hing, Pathani Hing, Hadda, Sweet, Bitter, White and Dark.
Ferula species including:
Ferula assafoetida L. (Ferula rubricaulis Boiss)
Ferula foetida (Bunge) Regel (Apiaceae/Umbelliferae)
Synonyms and Part Used
Asafetida, Asant, Devil’s Dung, Gum Asafetida
Oleo gum resin obtained by incising the living rhizomes and roots.
25%. Glucose, galactose, L-arabinose, rhamnose and glucuronic acid.
40–64%. Ferulic acid esters (60%), free ferulic acid (1.3%), asaresinotannols and farnesiferols A, B and C,coumarin derivatives (e.g. umbelliferone), coumarin–sesquiterpene complexes (e.g. asacoumarin A and asacoumarin B).
Free ferulic acid is converted to coumarin during dry distillation.
3–17%. Sulfur–containing compounds with disulfides as major components, various monoterpenes.
The oleo gum resins of different Ferula species are not identical and many papers have documented their phytochemistry, polysulfanes,complex acetylenes,phenylpropanoids and many sesquiterpene derivatives.
C-3 prenylated 4–hydroxycoumarin derivatives (e.g. ferulenol) are thought to represent the toxic principles in the species Ferula communis.
Asafoetida is used widely in foods. Asafoetida (essential oil, fluid extract and gommo–oleoresin) is listed by the Council of Europe as a source of natural food flavouring.Asafoetida is approved for food use.
Asafoetida is stated to possess carminative, antispasmodic and expectorant properties. It has been used for chronic bronchitis, pertussis, laryngismus stridulus, hysteria and specifically for intestinal flatulent colic.
0.3–1 g three times daily
Tincture of asafoetida
In vitro and animal studies
Asafoetida has been reported to possess anticoagulant and hypotensive properties.Asafoetida is an ingredient of a plant mixture reported to have antidiabetic properties in rats.However, when the individual components of the
mixture were studied asafoetida was devoid of antidiabetic effect with myrrh and aloe gum extracts representing the active hypoglycaemic principles.
Oestrogenic activity in rats has been documented for carotane sesquiterpenes and ferujol (a coumarin) isolated from Ferula jaeschkeana.
A protective action against fat–induced hyperlipidaemia has been documented for asafoetida and attributed to the sulfur compounds in the volatile oil fraction of the resin.Two double–blind studies have reported the efficacy of asafoetida in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome to be just below the 5% significance level in one study and at 1% in the other.
Asafoetida is documented to be relatively non–toxic; ingestion of 15 g produced no untoward effects.A report of methaemoglobinaemia has been associated with the administration of asafoetida (in milk) to a five–week–old infant for the treatment of colic.Asafoetida was found to exert an oxidising effect on fetal haemoglobin but not on adult haemoglobin.
Toxic coumarin constituents of a related species, Ferula communis, have been documented to reduce prothrombin concentrations and to cause haemorrhaging in livestock.
Two other species, Ferula galbaniflua and Ferula rubicaulis, are stated to contain a gum that is rubefacient and irritant, causing contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals.
A weak sister chromatid exchange–inducing effect in mouse spermatogonia and clastogenicity in mouse spermatocytes has been documented for asafoetida. Chromosomal damage by asafoetida has been associated with the coumarin constituents.
Asafoetida should not be given to infants because of the oxidising effect on fetal haemoglobin resulting in methaemoglobinaemia.The gum of some Ferula species is reported to be irritant and therefore may cause gastrointestinal irritation or induce contact dermatitis in some individuals. Excessive doses may interfere with
anticoagulant therapy and with hypertensive and hypotensive therapy.
Pregnancy and lactation
Asafoetida has a folkloric reputation as an abortifacient and an emmena gogue.However the use of asafoetida during pregnancy is probably acceptable, provided doses do not exceed amounts normally ingested in foods. In view of the toxic effect to infants (e.g. methaemoglobinaemia), asafoetida should be avoided during breast feeding.
Asafoetida is a complex oleo gum resin consisting of many constituents that vary according to the different species used. Asafoetida is commonly used in foods but little scientific evidence is available to justify the herbal uses. In view of the known pharmacologically active constituents, asafoetida should not be taken in amounts exceeding those used in foods.