NATURE'S ESSENTIAL OILS: ASAFETIDA
From THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ESSENTIAL OILS, by Julia Lawless and MODERN ESSENTIALS, by Aromatools
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ASAFETIDA (Ferula asa-foetida)
FAMILY: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
EXTRACTION METHOD: The oleoresin is obtained by making incisions into the root and above-ground parts of the plant. The milky juice is left to leak out and harden into dark reddish lumps, before being scraped off and collected. The essential oil is then obtained from the resin by steam distillation. An absolute, resinoid and tincture are also produced.
SYNONYMS: Asafoetida, gum asafetida, devil’s dung, food of the gods, giant fennel.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: A large branching perennial herb up to 3 meters high, with a thick fleshy root system and pale yellow-green flowers.
DISTRIBUTION: Native to Afghanistan, Iran and other regions of south west Asia.
OTHER SPECIES: There are several other species of Ferula which yield the oleoresin known as ‘asafetida’, e.g. Tibetan asafetida, which is also used to a lesser extent in commerce.
HERBAL/FOLK TRADITION: In Chinese medicine, it has been used since the seventh century as a nerve stimulant in treating neurasthenia. It is also widely used in traditional Indian medicine, where it is believed to stimulate the brain. In general, it has the reputation for treating various ailments including asthma, bronchitis, convulsions, coughs, constipation, flatulence and hysteria. The foliage of the plant is used as a local vegetable. It is current in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia as a specific for intestinal flatulent colic.
PROPERTIES / ACTIONS: Antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant, hypotensive, stimulant. Animals are repelled by its odor.
CHARACTERISTICS: A yellowy-orange oil with a bitter acrid taste and a strong, tenacious odor resembling garlic. However, beneath this odor, there is a sweet, balsamic note.
PRINCIPAL CONSTITUENTS: Disulphides, notably 2-butyl propenyl disulfide with monoterpenes, free ferulic acid, valeric, traces of vanillin, among others.
SAFETY DATA: Available information indicates the oil to be relatively non-toxic and non-irritant. However, it has the reputation for being the most adulterated ‘drug’ on the market. Before being sold, the oleoresin is often mixed with red clay or similar substitutes.
- RESPIRATORY SYSTEM: ‘There is evidence that the volatile oil is expelled through the lungs, therefore it is excellent for asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough etc.
- NERVOUS SYSTEM: Fatigue, nervous exhaustion, and stress-related conditions.
OTHER USES: Now rarely used in pharmaceutical preparations; formerly used as a local stimulant for the mucous membranes. Occasionally used as a fixative and fragrance component in perfumes especially rose bases and heavy oriental types. Employed in a wide variety of food categories, mainly condiments and sauces.