Asafoetida is dried latex obtained chiefly from herbaceous plant Ferula asafetida. It is also obtain from other species of ferula family. Gum resin is extracted from the rhizomes or the taproot of the female plant. Cultivation is usually done before flowering. Milky white juice oozes out from the cuts made on the rhizome of 4-5 years old plant. The white exudate is pure, fragrant and crystalline. The hardened exudate is scrapped, collected and the process is continued till the exudation stops. The exdudate is further processed and commercially made available in tear, mass and paste. Tears are the purest form and are grayish or dull yellow in color. Mass and paste asafetida are commercially available but often contain extraneous matter.
Afganistan and Iran are the major producer of asafetida. In India, latex of Ferula narthex (not a true asafoetida) is used as a substitute for asafetida. Also available in market is 'ushak', similar to asafetida but it is latex obtained from Dorema ammoniacum. The quality of asafetida depends upon the color, pungent smell and place of origin. Color varies as different species and collection procedures are used. Commonly sold in market are white or pale and the dark or black in color. Impure asafetida is often adulterated with extraneous matter like root fragments, soils, sand, clay and other residue matter. Other adulterants include- gum arabic, cheaper kinds of gum resin from other species or different species. The quality of asafetida further depends upon cultivation, collection, processing techniques.
Two major varieties in market are hing and hingra. Hingra is obtained fron F. foetida, while hing is obtained from F. asafetida. Hingra are considered low in quality compared to hing due to its inferior odour. There are two types of hing- Irani hing and pathani hing according to their origin. Pathani hing is comparatively superior to Irani being free from extraneous matter. Hadda is most expensive pathani hing.
Since ancient ages it is commonly used as a spice to add flavor to food and as a trusted medicine for healing ailment. It is major component in many of the ayurvedic and unani drug preparations.
Medical uses as follows
• Treatment of gastro intestinal ailments like stomach ache, flatulence, distension of the stomach, indigestion, diarrhea
• Treatment of excessive painful menstruation and leucorrhoea
• Useful for women after childbirth
• Destroy worms and promotes healing
• Treatment of piles
• Treatment of cough and asthama
• Neurological disease like paralysis, convulsions, epilepsy etc