As North Americans embrace herbs and practices from other healing systems, they will inevitably encounter some that are unfamiliar. Most people know little at all about asafoetida, although it was used in European medicine in medieval times. Also spelled asafetida, its history goes back even further in India and the Near East. Does it really offer health benefits?
What Is Asafoetida?
Q. What is asafoetida? Are there any health problems or benefits associated with its use in cooking? It was discussed on “The Dr. Oz Show.”
I remember as a nurse in Georgia in the 1950s, rural children came into our hospital with bags (acifitidy bags) of this disgusting smelling product hanging around their necks.
A Plant Product:
A. Asafoetida is a resin from a plant, Ferula assa-foetida, native to Afghanistan. In India, this resin is known as hing and has traditionally been used to promote good digestion. Home cooks add it to beans or legumes to enhance their flavor and reduce the chance of flatulence.
Is Asafoetida Fetid?
Asafoetida lives up to its name, as it is indeed very stinky. The folk remedy of hanging it in a bag around a child’s neck to protect the youngster from illness might have worked by keeping people away. Drug stores sold such bags as a preventive during the deadly Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. People in rural areas remembered this and continued to rely on them for decades afterwards.
Does This Plant Product Have Antiviral Properties?
Some research has shown that asafoetida has antiviral activity against certain rhinoviruses that cause colds (Rollinger et al, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Feb. 5, 2008). Compounds in this plant product are active against the herpes virus that causes cold sores (Ghannadi et al, Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, Spring 2014).
Like other botanical medicines, asafoetida is not for everyone. Some people react to it with digestive distress such as heartburn, nausea or vomiting. Others may develop a headache. Allergic reactions might also be possible.