What is Asafoetida?

Asafoetida, scientifically known as Ferula Asafoetida, is a perennial, herbaceous, monocarpic plant belonging to the Apiaceae family. This medicinal plant is native to the steppes of Iran and some parts of Afghanistan. Due to the improper and excessive use of traditional harvesting methods in recent years, the growth rate of asafoetida has declined. Consequently, the density of this plant in the wild has significantly decreased, and it is now facing the threat of extinction.

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Ferula Asafoetida
Ferula Asafoetida

Botany

The asafoetida plant, belonging to the Apiaceae family, is recognized for its thick and juicy roots that serve as a reservoir for the plant’s sap. The plant’s stem, somewhat fleshy, can grow up to a height of two meters. In the early stages of asafoetida’s growth, there is almost no stem, and the leaves spread out over the ground in a rosette formation. As the stem grows taller, yellow, umbrella-shaped flowers appear at its tip. The fruits of this plant, which are dark brown or black and have an oval and somewhat flattened shape, emit an unpleasant odor.

The size of asafoetida seeds varies between 9 to 12 millimeters in length and 5 to 7.5 millimeters in width. The weight for a thousand seeds is approximately 12.5 grams, and its hectoliter weight is 196.4 grams per cubic centimeter. The purity standards of the seed are around 80 percent, and its germination strength is also above 80 percent, allowing the seeds to retain their germination capability for up to three years.

Characteristics of Asafoetida Gum

Asafoetida gum, also known as oleoresin, is produced by cutting the roots or the lowest part of the stems or even severing the stems near the base of the plant. This process allows for the collection of soft, white exudates every three days, which turn brown and become hard and brittle upon exposure to air. The rhizome eventually dies after a period, about three months. From each plant, approximately one kilogram of gum can be extracted.

Asafoetida has a strong and pungent taste, with some varieties also exhibiting a bitter flavor. Its smell is similar to garlic and is very potent, which is expelled through stomach and bowel movements. In traditional medicine, two types of Asafoetida are mentioned: white Asafoetida or “Hing Kabuli,” which is derived from the more fragrant variety, and black Asafoetida or “Hing Afghan,” which is obtained from the foul-smelling variety.

Types of Asafoetida Resin

Granular or Tear Form

The first type of gum harvested without any plant matter is in granular or tear form. This gum naturally exudes in small amounts from the stem of the plant. This form of Asafoetida is considered the highest quality and most rare due to its lack of impurities such as soil or other debris. It typically has a flat and oval appearance, maintaining its softness for a period. Upon exposure to air, it quickly oxidizes, changing color first to a peach flower-like purple and then to a reddish-brown. If broken, its cross-section reveals colors ranging from white to yellow or even slightly pink.

Lump Form

The gum in lump form is obtained from a wound created by cutting near the plant’s collar (after preparing the plant) and is usually collected in a haphazard and less careful manner. It comes in various colors such as yellow, red, brown, and gray-brown. Compared to the tear form, this type of gum is harder and contains more impurities, including straw, pieces of root, and crushed leaves, which is why it is considered to have lesser value than the tear form.

gum-Ferula-Asafoetida
gum-Ferula-Asafoetida

Therapeutic and Medicinal Properties of Asafoetida

The oleoresin gum found in Asafoetida has been renowned for its nutritional and medicinal properties for ages. In traditional Asian medicine, the gum obtained from the root of Asafoetida is used to regulate the digestive system, cleanse and activate the inner surface of the intestines, eliminate worms, act as an analgesic, anti-constipation agent, and as an appetite stimulant. Additionally, the methanol extract from the Asafoetida root has the ability to inhibit the activity of the HCV-PR protease. In the United States, Asafoetida is used in the preparation of Worcestershire sauce, which has a spicy taste and is used as a seasoning in cooking.

The leaves of Asafoetida possess anti-worm, anti-flatulence, and perspiration-inducing properties. The stems are also used as a tonic for the liver and brain. The gum obtained from the root of Asafoetida is used in making antiparasitic, anticonvulsant, menstruation-inducing, and heart-strengthening medicines and is effective in treating diseases with a neurological origin, respiratory problems, laryngeal spasms, asthma, gastrointestinal diseases, and in alleviating constipation in the elderly. Additionally, it is used in the treatment of pneumonia as a topical medication and to reduce pain caused by intestinal colic in children.

Asafoetida, due to its natural compounds and antimicrobial and antifungal properties, has gained importance in the prevention and treatment of diseases and infections, especially in developing countries. In Lorestan province, the cooked bulb of Asafoetida is used to treat rheumatic diseases, and its poultice is also beneficial in preventing hair loss. Additionally, this plant is effective in preventing miscarriages and in controlling blood pressure.

Given the antioxidant properties of certain plants and natural compounds, the importance of using these plants in improving community health has been increasingly emphasized. Asafoetida, which is abundantly found in Iran, especially in the Zagros mountain range, due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, can play a significant role in the production of new medicines.

Therapeutic and medicinal properties of Asafoetida
Therapeutic and medicinal properties of Asafoetida

Use in Agriculture

In a study conducted by Nazemi Rafi in 2003, it was investigated how plant extracts, especially asafoetida, in addition to henbane and lavender, have insecticidal effects on the flour moth and flour louse. The results showed that asafoetida extract is the most effective in eliminating insects. This plant also causes an increase in the level of the hormone prolactin in sheep, rabbits, and laboratory rats, indicating its lactogenic property. Asafoetida may contain lactogenic compounds such as pectin and beta-glucan. Due to its strong and unpleasant odor, it is usually used in seed form and consumed daily in amounts ranging from 0.5 to 2 grams, while its alcoholic or ether extract is used in quantities of 1 to 4 grams.

Chemical Compounds of Asafoetida

As a medicinal plant, in addition to its pastoral and industrial uses, Asafoetida contains a variety of chemical compounds. This plant comprises valuable components such as resin (62%), gum (25%), essential oil (3 to 7%), free ferulic acid (1.28%), and trace amounts of vanillin. Moreover, novel molecules like azulenes, ferulic acid, umbelliferone, and various sesquiterpene coumarins have been extracted from its resin. Research has shown that Asafoetida contains significant amounts of elements such as iron, strontium, zinc, and copper. The essential oil of Asafoetida, which oxidizes quickly when exposed to air, includes terpenes, pinene, and sesquiterpenes with a lavender-like aroma and sulfur compounds, constituting about 65% of it. Chemical analyses of Asafoetida gum essential oil reveal high ratios of butyl propenyl disulfide and other sulfur compounds, as well as smaller ratios of alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, 3-carene, cis-ocimene, and alpha-humulene.

Industrial Applications of Asafoetida

Given the prominent role of the medicinal plant Asafoetida in treating various diseases and its use in the food industry, the importance of utilizing the gum and extract derived from this plant has become more highlighted. The oleoresin gum of Asafoetida can be used in drug manufacturing and also exported to other countries. Most of the Asafoetida produced in Iran is exported, with domestic consumption being low. This production includes both legal exploitations within the framework of authorized projects and illegal operations, with the highest production levels in the Fars, Kerman, and Khorasan provinces.

By creating suitable conditions for the exploitation of this valuable medicinal plant, effective measures can be taken in the production of drugs based on it to prevent the reckless export of raw gum and to take significant steps towards the production of medication based on it. The natural regeneration of Asafoetida is only possible through the production and dissemination of seeds. Each Asafoetida flower can produce a large number of seeds in umbrella-like structures, whose lightweight seeds are dispersed by the wind across the region and germinate.

Given that this plant is a valuable source of income for many Iranian villagers and operators, the local people, in cooperation with relevant institutions, spread the collected seeds in selected areas of the pastures after collection. This ensures the survival of the plant and prevents its extinction. The best time for seed collection is before they are dispersed.

Asafoetida Production

The natural regeneration of Asafoetida is possible through the production and spread of seeds. Each flowering stem of this plant produces a large number of seeds located in umbrella-like structures. The lightweight seeds of this plant are dispersed by the wind around the area, initiating new growth.

Tissue Culture Methods

Tissue culture and micropropagation are advanced and reliable methods used for the mass propagation of Asafoetida, a valuable medicinal plant at risk of extinction.

Parand Aromatic Plants Company, with a complete protocol for the production of Asafoetida through tissue culture, announces its readiness to collaborate with organizations, institutions, production units, and research entities.

If you wish, you can proceed to place your order for Asafoetida and its extract: