Family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
Synonyms: Asafoetida, gum asafetida, devil's dung, food of the gods, giant fennel.
General Description : A large branching perennial herb up to 3 metres high, with a thick fleshy root system and pale yellow-green flowers.
Distribution: Native to Afghanistan, Iran and other regions of South west Asia.
Other Species: There are several other species of Ferula which yield the oleoresin known as 'asafetida', e.g. Tibetan asafetida, which is also used to a lesser extent in commerce.
Herbal/Folk Tradition: In Chinese medicine it has been used since the seventh century as a nerve stimulant in treating neurasthenia. It is also widely used in traditional Indian medicine, wher it is believed to stimulate the brain. In general, it has the reputation for treating various ailments including asthma, bronchitis, convulsions, coughts, constipation, flatulence and hysteria.The foliage of the plant is used as a local vegetable. It is current in the British Herbal pharmacopoeia as a specific for intestinal flatulence colic.
Actions: Antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant, hypotensive, stimulant, Animals are repelled by its odour.
Extraction: The oleoresin is obtained by making incisions into the root and above the ground parts of the plant. The milky juice is left to leak out and harden into dark reddish lumps, before being scraped off and collected. The essential oil is then obtained from the resin by steam distillation. An absolute, resinoid and tincture are also produced.
Characteristics: A yellow-orange oil with a bitter acrid taste and a strong, tenacious odour resembling garlic. However, beneath this odour there is a sweet, balsamic note.
Principal Constituents: Disulphides, notably 2-butyl propenyl disulphide with monoterpenes, free ferulic acid, valeric, traces of vanillin, among others.
Safety Data: Available information indicates the oil be relatively non-toxic and non-irritant. However, it has the reputation for being the most adulterated 'drug' on the market. Before being sold, the oleoresin is often mixed with red clay or similar substitutes.
Respiratory system:'There is evidence that the volatile oil is expelled through the lungs,thyerefore it is excellent for asthma, bronchitis,whooping cough etc.
Nervous system: Fatigue, nervous exhaustion and stress-related conditions.
Now rarely used in pharmaceutical preparations; formely used as a local stimulant for mucous membranes. Occasionally used as a fixative and fragrance component in perfumes,especially rose bases and heavy orential types. Employed in a wide variety of food categories,mainly condiments and sauces.
Reference: The Encyclopedia of Essential oils: Julia Lawless