The Myriad Wonders of Asafateda

Asafateda is the dried gum taken from the root of the perennial herb Ferula. The resin from this plant has been part of many unusual medicinal claims, many of them stemming from the idea that the strong odor is a deterrent for germs. The smell is quite sulfurous which has given rise to alternative names for the plant including:

  • Stinking gum
  • Devil’s dung
  • Food of the gods
  • Hing
  • And ting

It has been used to treat spasms; it has been used as an aphrodisiac, a diuretic, and an expectorant. In cooking this gum is used as a digestive aid or as a condiment. It typically enhances flavors alongside turmeric for Indian cuisine such as lentil curry, or dal. It is also popular in vegetable dishes throughout South India.

Historically, a bag of the paste was hung around the neck of a child who suffered from a cold or bronchitis.

intestinal spasms
intestinal spasms

Within Eastern medicine this plant has been used to treat intestinal spasms, and has been used as an aphrodisiac, a stimulant, and a diuretic. Today, many Asian vegetarian dishes use it as a fragrant addition. The anti-flatulent quality it has makes it ideal for consumption alongside beans and lentils which is why in India it is still used for its ability to reduce the growth of microflora in the gut, which in turn reduces flatulence. In the Jammu area of India, 60% of locals use this to treat constipation or flatulence.

In Thailand and India it is used as a digestive aid. It is smeared across the abdomen in an alcohol or water tincture.

Within Western medicine, in the days of the Wild West in America, it was used with other spices to cure alcoholism. Since then it was used to treat whooping cough, bronchitis, and asthma. In 1918, it was used to help fight off the Spanish flu pandemic. In 2009 researchers discovered that it produced natural antiviral components which would protect against H1N1 in vitro.

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