Asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Asafoetida
Ferula assa-foetida
Umbelliferae

A gum-resin is obtained from incisions in the roots and rhizomes[114]. The stem is removed at the end of the growing season, the root uncovered and a thin slice removed[74]. Another report says that the stem is removed as the plant starts to flower[238]. The gum exudes and hardens and a fresh slice is then made[74]. The gum should be stored in an air-tight container to prevent its strong flavour contaminating nearby substances[238]. The gum is a source of an essential oil which has medicinal properties and is also used as a food flavouring and in perfumery[46, 57, 61].

  • Medicinal Use

    Asafoetida is a very effective medicinal herb that acts mainly on the digestive system, cleansing and strengthening the gastro-intestinal tract[238]. It is much used in the Ayurvedic tradition[238]. The gum-resin contains a volatile oil that is as persistent in aroma as garlic. They leave the body via the respiratory system and aid the coughing up of congested mucous[254].

    The pungently flavoured gum-resin that is obtained from the root is alterative, anthelmintic, antiperiodic, antispasmodic, carminative, deobstruent, deodorant, expectorant, laxative, sedative and stomachic[7, 21, 176, 218]. It is used in the treatment of simple digestive problems such as wind, bloating, indigestion and constipation, and also for respiratory problems such as bronchitis, bronchial asthma and whooping cough[254]. It is also used as a circulatory stimulant, lowering blood pressure and thinning the blood[7, 21, 165, 176, 254]. The resin has a synergistic effect on other herbal preparations such as camphor, valerian and nux-vomica[7]. It is used in tincture as a mild cardio-tonic[7]. See below under ‘Uses notes’ for details on harvesting the resin.

  • Edible Use

    Leaves and young shoots – cooked as a vegetable[2, 4, 177, 183]. The plant has a foetid odour, but this disappears when it is boiled[2]. The cabbage-like folded heads are eaten raw as a delicacy[183].

    Root – cooked[2, 4]. It needs to be steeped in order to remove a bitterness[74]. A starch extracted from the roots is used to make a porridge[74].

    A gum-resin from the root is used as a food flavouring[171]. It is an essential ingredient of Worcester sauce, it is also used to flavour a wide range of dishes and drinks[183]. It is popular in natural food cuisine as a garlic substitute[183]. The resin obtained from this plant is probably the foulest-smelling of all herbs, with a sulphurous garlic-like odour[7, 238]. It is so nauseating to some people that it has been nicknamed ‘dung of the devil'[7]. However, in judicious quantities it gives a surprisingly pleasant flavour to many foods[238].

  • Cautionary Notes

    None known

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as the seed is ripe in a greenhouse in autumn[1]. Otherwise sow in April in a greenhouse. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Plant them out into their permanent positions whilst still small because the plants dislike root disturbance[1]. Give the plants a protective mulch for at least their first winter outdoors. Division in autumn. This may be inadvisable due to the plants dislike of root disturbance.
Succeeds in most soils[1]. Prefers a deep fertile soil in a sunny position[200]. This species is not hardy in the colder areas of the country, it tolerates temperatures down to between -5 and -10¡c[200]. Plants have a long taproot and are intolerant of root disturbance[200]. They should be planted into their final positions as soon as possible. Monocarpic, the plant takes some years before it flowers and dies after flowering[74]. In Britain, the plants usually flower after about 5 years[238]. The whole plant, especially when bruised, has an unpleasant smell like stale fish[245].
W. Asia – Afghanistan to Iran.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.