Dr. Michael Tierra L.Ac., O.M.D.
Asafoetida (Ferula foetida), also known as Narthex or Hing. Recognized by its overwhelming odor which has given rise to at least one of its many popular names, "devil's dung". A member of the umbelliferae plant family, it originally was a native of Persia, Afghanistan and neighboring regions where the plant is greedily eaten with relish by the native people and sheep of the region. The gum resin consists of the milky sap obtained from an incision of the green matured root. It is possible that the resin in commerce may be derived from several related species, although the best quality and most productive is from the official plant. The major biochemical agent responsible for its characteristic odor is an organic sulfur compound found as part of the essential oil which makes it very similar to the essential oil of garlic (allyl, allyl persulphide and two turpenes) for which it is commonly substituted in food preparations.
The oldest plants are most productive, anything less than four years is considered virtually worthless. From March-April, just before flowering, the upper part of the carrot shaped root is laid bare and the stem is cut off close to the crown. The exposed surface is covered by a dome-shaped structure made from twigs and earth. After a few days the exudate is scraped off and a fresh slice of root is cut to gather more latex. This collection process may be repeated for up to 3 months or until there is no more exudate. Some plants have been known to yield as much as 2 lbs. or more of gum resin.
Asafoetida occurs in commerce in three forms, tears, mass and paste. The tears can retain the original color for years and gradually darken to a reddish brown color. The tears are commonly sold in Chinese pharmacies and characteristically may have fragments of root and earth. The paste may also contain extraneous matter. As a condiment for cooking beans and an ingredient in curry, flavoring for sauces and pickles and a substitute for garlic it is commonly powdered and adulterated with various substances such as gum arabic, other gum resins, gypsum, red clay, chalk, barley or wheat flour, slices of powdered dried potatoes, etc.
It has a warm energy with bitter and acrid or pungent flavors. In ayurvedic medicine it has a hot energy, counteracting Kapha (mucoid) and Vata (neurological) conditions and aggravating to excess Pitta (fire-digestive) types. Middle Eastern Unani medicine classifies it as Hot 4th degree and Dry to the 2nd degree.
According to Indian Materia Medica by Nadkarani in Ayurvedic medicine, it is regarded as a valuable condiment and spice and "a valuable remedy for hysteria, nervous disorders of women and children, flatulence, flatulent colic and spasmodic affections of the bowels especially when connected with hysteria, in fainting and emotional states, nervous palpitations, hypochondriasis and other affections due to hysteria, in the spasmodic, and the obstinate coughs of childhood remaining after attacks of inflammation and also in the advanced stages of whooping cough, pneumonia and bronchitis of children, in the chronic bronchitis and asthma of adults." It is also regarded in Ayurvedic, Chinese and Western medicine as an effective remedy for worms and other intestinal parasites. This source also goes on to warn that it must be fried before use, as raw and unfried asafoetida will cause nausea and vomiting. The recommended does of the powder is 1 to 2 grain-pill. Another preparation is made by grinding 5 teaspoons of asafoetida in a pint of water in a mortar to make a milky emulsion. Half to one ounce of this is taken at a time.
One of the most common Indian household preparations is Hingashtak which is a compound powder of fried asafoetida, ginger, pippli long pepper, black pepper, ajowan, cumin seeds nigella seeds and rock salt in equal parts. Ten to 20 grains of the powder is taken with the first morsel of rice and clarified butter (ghee) at breakfast. The powder can also be made into pills with lemon juice. Hingashtak is also useful for chronic indigestion and liver stagnation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine views it as entering the Liver, Spleen and Stomach channels. It stimulates the intestinal, respiratory and the nervous system. It can be used for food stagnation, weak digestion, intestinal parasites and flatulence as well as asthma, whooping cough and chronic bronchitis. Mixed with dried and powdered red azuki beans, the smoke of asafoetida can be inhaled through a pipe to relieve the paroxysm of asthma. It can be administered as an enema for intestinal flatulence and parasites. It is also administered for neurological symptoms associated with hysterical and epileptic affections as well as cholera. Like garlic, it is commonly employed in the regions where it is prevalent for veterinary medicine.
King's American Dispensatory echoes many of the same indications as the Ayurvedic and Chinese uses. "Its properties are stimulant, antispasmodic, expectorant, emmenagogue, and vermifuge," going on to add that it is "improper in inflammatory conditions, but of marked value in purely functional nervous disorders, with excitability, and as a gastric stimulant in gastro intestinal atony, with flatulence." This is to say that asafoetida is specifically useful when gastric digestion and absorption is at such a low degree that food sits in the gut, causing noxious fermentation and bloating and may be associated with neurological or emotional negativity and mood swings.
Considering that it was one of the most commonly prescribed herbs by the Eclectics throughout the 19th century for a condition commonly associated with women known as hysteria (thanks to Freud, this is the root of the term, '˜hysterectomy'), the many symptoms associated with mood swings, depression and digestive weakness are closely related to many contemporary conditions such as candida albicans, food allergies and chronic fatigue. For chronic fatigue, I have noticed that patients often fail to respond to the usual Chinese Qi tonics and in many instances are even aggravated by them. On the other hand, I have only recently discovered that many of them do better at least initially if they are given Liver Qi regulating formulas such as Bupleurum and Peony formula (Xiao Yao Wan) or Hingashtak or some stronger asafoetida preparation.
Could it be that emotional depression and fatigue in many of our most commonly seen metabolic disorders occurs as a result of mal-absorption? I think that experience will show that asafoetida may well be one of the most valuable herbs for treating these conditions, making it one of our most valuable herbs.
Besides the Hingashtak, another common combination described in Indian Materia Medica and described in Potter's as Aloes and Asafoetida Pill made by combining 1 1/2 grains of each into a pill. An enema of asafoetida is effective treating threadworms and other intestinal parasites. Finally, despite its emmenagogue properties, a Dr. Turzza quotes several Italian sources who have been using asafoetida to treat habitual abortion since 1885. He describes a prescription of Dr. P. Negri of Venice, --- 6 grams of asafoetida are made into 60 pills (each about a grain and a half). Those with a history of miscarriage would take one pill twice a day as soon as pregnancy is recognized. The dose is then slowly and gradually increased to ten pills a day (5 each time), after which the dose is gradually reduced until a week or two before the scheduled time of delivery. He states that even in cases with a history of 3 to 5 miscarriages complicated with permetritis, catarrhal endometritis and even with threatened miscarriage at the sixth month have been successfully treated with asafoetida pills.
Asafoetida acts on the respiratory, digestive, circulatory and neurological systems and will increase sexual libido. If taken even in moderate dose for a long period of time, it may cause alliaceous eructations, acrid irritation in the throat, flatulence, diarrhea and burning urine. The volatile oil is rapidly excreted and can be detected in the urine, milk and sweat. Because of these, it should be taken with frequent intervals of abstinence. Optimally, those with a hot, fiery or Pitta constitution should definitely limit its use while those with Vata and Kapha excess would be the more likely to benefit from its use.
After years of reports of patients and people around the country who have noticed benefit for flatulence, digestive weakness and candida albicans, I feel that the following candida case which was remarkable for the extreme symptoms of the patient has motivated me to extol the virtues of this herb especially in the formula called Hingashtak, so that the countless numbers of people (mostly women) who have come to recognize that they have yeast overgrowth can benefit from this wonderful botanical.
Woman, age 31, very heavy set, spleen-damp constitution, 1 child, married. Has asthma which we have been able to control with acupuncture and herbs for more than a year. Initial evaluation is Kid yin and Yang deficient., damp stagnation and qi deficiency. Has pain in the muscles throughout her body, headaches, tired all the time, cold. Twin sister has all of the same symptoms. She was born with 2 extra vertebrae, had partial hysterectomy, cysts surgically removed from her breasts, was beaten by her husband with a tire iron and had a nervous breakdown. Asthmawan pills help her a lot, wu ling san, Rehmannia eight. Treated ST36, LI4, 11, 21, Lung 7, BL 23, ST40.
Her asthma symptoms were well controlled and after several months she came in and just lost her job, she was complaining of severe candida albicans symptoms, cold extremities, insomnia, vaginitis, hives, burning eyes, flaking and itching around the ears and nose, tired all the time and feels sick after she eats. She has alternate diarrhea and constipation. I gave her a powder of asafoetida and ginger to take with meals. A tea of pau d' arco, Red marine algae, flora balance (intestinal flora).
She came in a week later reporting that the herbs were working, especially the asafoetida and ginger combination.
The next visit she said she was much better, itching headaches, vaginitis were gone, her energy comes and goes, her ears felt full of fluid and she complained of dizziness.
Treated SP10, 11, 9, LU7, LI4, BL11, 13, 20, 23, GB20 and Yin tang.
We stopped the asafoetida and Ginger combination for a couple of weeks and her candida symptoms reoccurred, including her skin rash. Resuming it again, all symptoms cleared making it very clear that something very specific was happening with the use of asafoetida for a condition that in TCM would be classified as Liver Qi stagnation and Spleen dampness.
Following is courtesy of Jim Duke's database
ASAFOETIDA; DEVIL'S DUNG (Ferula assa-foetida L.) ++
ACTIVITIES (ASAFETIDA; DEVIL'S DUNG): Anticoagulant (1; CAN; PNC) Antiseptic
(f; PHR); Antispasmodic (f;CAN); Carminative (f; CAN); Expectorant (f; CAN);
Hypotensive (1; CAN; PNC); Sedative (f; PHR).
INDICATIONS (ASAFETIDA; DEVIL'S DUNG): Bronchitis (f; CAN); Colic (f; CAN); Colitis (f; PHR); Cough (f; PNC) Dyspepsia (f;CAN); Flatulence (f; PNC);
Gastritis (f; PHR); Hyperlipidemia (f; CAN); Hysteria (f; CAN); IBS (2; CAN)Laryngismus (f; CAN); Pertussis (f; CAN).
DOSAGES (ASAFETIDA; DEVIL'S DUNG): 0.3-1g asafetida resin (PNC) 3 x/day
(CAN); 2-4 ml asafetida tincture (CAN, PNC).
CONTRAINDICATIONS, INTERACTIONS, AND SIDE EFFECTS (ASAFETIDA; DEVIL'S DUNG): Class 2b, 2d contraindicated for infant colic (AHPA, 1997). Bitter acrid taste and disagreeable, garlic-like odor, due mostly to its volatile oil.
Odor imparted through excretions and eructations. Medicinal use may result in swollen lips, gastric burning, belching, flatulence, diarrhea, burning during urination, headaches, dizziness, convulsions (AEH; PHR). Newall, Anderson, and Phillipson (1996) report the gum of related species to be irritant to the skin and stomach,.and to cause dermatitis. Because it is reputed to affect the menstrual cycle and to be an abortifacient, its use in pregnancy and lactation is to be avoided. It oxidizes fetal hemoglobin but not adult hemoglobin. Coumarins may interfere with coagulation therapy and may cause chromosomal damage (CAN). 50-100 mg resin reported to cause convulsions in nervous people (AHPA, 1997).
EXTRACTS ( ASAFETIDA; DEVIL'S DUNG): Sulfur compounds in the oil may protect against fat-induced hyperlipidemia. Two double-blind studies report asafetida useful for irritable bowel syndrome (just below 5% significance level in one, near 1% in the other) (CAN).