Scientific Name(s): Ferula assa-foetida L.
Common Name(s): Asa Foetida, Asafetida, Asafoetida, Devil's dung, Gum asafoetida, Hing, Stinkasant
Indigenous to eastern Iran and western Afghanistan, asafetida is the gum resin obtained from the roots and rhizomes of F. assa-foetida. In Afghanistan, the plant grows wild at elevations of 0.61 to 1.22 km on plains that are arid in winter and where few other plants survive. The plant reaches a height of up to 2 m and bears clusters of pale, greenish-yellow flowers and an oval fruit. All parts of the plant have a distinctive fetid odor. Extraction of the gum begins just before flowering. After the stalks are cut close to the ground and the roots are exposed and slashed, a milky liquid oozes out. The liquid then dries to form a resin and a fresh cut is made. The process is continued for about 3 months from the first incision; a single plant may yield up to 1 kg of resin before it dries out. The fresh gum is a soft, semiliquid mass that undergoes a gradual color change from shimmering yellowish-white to reddish-brown.Carrubba 1979, Kurzyna-Mtynik 2008, USDA 2010 A synonym is Ferula foetida [Bunge] Regal).
The common name "asafetida" is derived from the Farsi word aza (resin) and the Latin foetidus (smelling, fetid). Many unusual medical claims have been made for the resin, most stemming from the belief that its fetid odor acts as a deterrent to germs. The shock of the sulfurous smell was once thought to calm hysteria and, in the days of the American Wild West, asafetida was included in a mixture with other strong spices as a cure for alcoholism.
Asafetida has been used for abdominal tumors and as a carminative, intestinal spasmodic, abortifacient, aphrodisiac, diuretic, sedative, and stimulant. Use in respiratory conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough, has also been documented, and in 1918 asafetida was used in the Spanish influenza pandemic. Today, asafetida is commonly used as a fragrance component in perfumes and in minute quantities in Asian vegetarian cooking. The antiflatulent qualities are utilized in dishes containing large quantities of pulses such as beans or lentils. It is sold as a spice and food preservative and, at very low levels, has been used in candies, beverages, relishes, and sauces.Duke 1985, Eigner 1999, Kandeler 2009, Lee 2009, Tyler 1988
Asafetida is composed of approximately 4% to 20% volatile oil, 40% to 60% resin, and 25% gum. The most striking features of the gum are its putrid odor and bitter, acrid taste caused by organic, sulfur-containing compounds found in the essential oil. Isolated sulfur compounds include disulfides (eg, asadisulfide, symmetric tri- and tetrasulfides). Several sesquiterpene coumarins have been identified, including assafoetidnol A and B, hydroxyumbelliumprenin, asafoetidin, and saradaferin. Characteristically, the plant also contains glucuronic acid, galactose, arabinose, and rhamnose. Pinene, cadinene, and vanillin are found in the oil and umbelliferone, and asaresinotannol, foetidin, kamolonol, and ferulic acid are found in the resin. In addition, asafetida contains a number of terpenes and lipid-soluble substances that have not been well characterized. Caffeic acid cinnamyl ester with inhibitory actions on nitric oxide production and sesquiterpene dienones with cytotoxic activity have been identified.Abd El-Razek 2007, Appendino 2006, Bandyopadhyay 2006, Duan 2002, Eigner 1999, Eigner 2001
Uses and Pharmacology
Asafetida is a potent antioxidantSaleem 2001 and ferulic acid, a component of the resin, has shown promise as a chemopreventive agentMallikarjuna 2003 suggesting that asafetida may offer some protection against carcinogenesis. In vitro studies have shown some cytotoxicity against lymphoma ascites, tumor cells, and human lymphocytes.Unnikrishnan 1988 Protection against the mutagenicity induced by aflatoxin B1 has also been demonstrated;Soni 1997 however, this effect was only evident against one strain of Salmonella typhimurium and was less than that observed with tumeric and garlic. The mechanism through which asafetida exerts its antitumor activity is unclear. Hypotheses include interception of free radicals, inhibition of natural killer cells, induction of enzymes such as glutathione S-transferase and quinone reductase, and inhibition of polyamine and DNA biosynthesis.Appendino 2006, Saleem 2001
Administration of F. asafoetida conferred considerable protection against chemically induced mammary carcinogenesis in young female rats.Mallikarjuna 2003 The reduction in the mean number of mammary carcinomas per rat (regarded as the most reliable index of mammary tumorogenesis in experimental animals) was highly significant in rats receiving asafetida as part of their diets (1.25% or 2.5% w/w). Long-term studies showed reduction in the multiplicity and size of palpable mammary tumors, as well as a delay in mean latency period of tumor appearance. The administration of asafetida in the diet did not affect food intake.
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of asafetida in cancer.
Antispasmodic and hypotensive activity of the gum extract has been demonstrated in animal experiments.Fatehi 2004
Antiviral activity by sesquiterpene compounds of F. assa-foetida has been demonstrated in vitro against the influenza A virus (H1N1).Lee 2009
A Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis identified 2 small studies (N = 129) of very low overall quality and high or unknown risk of bias that evaluated homeopathic use of asafetida versus placebo or usual treatment (dicyclomine) in patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A statistically significant difference in global improvement was found for the intervention compared with placebo in one study, and there was no significant difference between asafetida and usual care with high doses of dicyclomine. The Cochrane authors concluded that no recommendations could be drawn from the data due to its low quality.Peckham 2013
There is no clinical evidence to support dosage recommendations.
Traditionally, a daily dosage of asafetida resin 200 to 500 mg is used for medicinal purposes. In dietary use, 5 mL of the ground spice is added to 8 oz of hot water to prepare asafetida water, with approximately 50 to 200 mg consumed twice a week.Eigner 1999
Pregnancy / Lactation
Ethanolic extracts of F. assa-foetida were used in an experiment to determine the (non-estrogen-related) effect on pregnant rats. Pregnancy interceptive activities were established for the extract, possibly caused by interference in the energy metabolism of the uterus.Keshri 2004
Asafetida has been used traditionally as an emmenagogue and abortifacient. Avoid use.Ernst 2002
Several coumarin derivatives have been isolated from asafetida resinAbd El-Razek 2001 suggesting the possibility of a potentiation of the pharmacologic activity of anticoagulant drugs (eg, warfarin).Heck 2000 Published reports of such interactions are lacking and the clinical importance is unknown.
None well documented.
Ingestion has not been associated with severe toxicity in adults. However, 1 case report described the development of severe methemoglobinemia in a 5-week-old child following ingestion of an undetermined quantity of glycerated asafetida solution (a mixture of asafetida, glycerol, propylene glycol, and calcium carbonate).Kelly 1984 In vitro testing found that asafetida gum exerts a strong oxidative effect on purified fetal hemoglobin, leading to the recommendation that this folk remedy be considered potentially life-threatening to infants.
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