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Asafoetida is a gum resin obtained from the Ferula plant. It is used as a spice and medicine in many cultures. Native to Iran and Afghanistan, it is now commonly used in many South Asian recipes.
In India, it is commonly referred to as hing. Generally, it is used in powder form, but blocks of hing are also available. It has a pungent odor and is also sometimes called devil’s dung.
Asafoetida is used for the treatment of diseases including whopping cough, asthma, ulcers, epilepsy, stomachache, flatulence, bronchitis, parasitic infection, indigestion, and influenza.
Health Benefits of Asafoetida
Here are some of the health benefits of this little spice.
1. Acts as a digestive aid
Spices are considered to be good adjuncts in improving digestive health.
Asafoetida improves the secretion of enzymes from the pancreas. (1) It has also been studied for its role in managing indigestion.
People supplemented with asafoetida reported an overall improvement in their symptoms such as bloating, feeling of fullness, heartburn, and constipation, with a positive impact on their quality of life. (2)
2. May help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition with symptoms that include bloating, flatulence, indigestion, abdominal pain or discomfort, and either constipation or diarrhea or both. (3)
Asafoetida may be helpful in easing the symptoms of IBS as evidence shows it promotes digestion.
Research is limited on the direct impact of this spice on IBS, though one small study did report improvement in IBS symptoms upon asafoetida supplementation for up to 2 weeks. (4)
3. May lower blood pressure
Asafoetida has muscle relaxant abilities, (1) which may reduce high blood pressure by relaxing the muscles of the blood vessels. In animal studies, asafoetida did lower blood pressure induced by medication. (5)
4. May play a role in diabetes management
However, dosages at which asafoetida can be useful in humans are still being investigated.
5. May support nerve and brain function
Some reports suggest the protective role asafoetida plays on nerves and their stimulation. (1)
Brain cells of rats fed with asafoetida extracts showed less cellular damage and cell death. (7) Asafoetida also improved learning and memory ability in mice, while also reducing neuronal injuries and oxidative stress in the brain. (8) These effects are useful in preventing degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
It is pertinent to note that the amounts of this spice used in cooking are too little to exert these benefits and the role and dosage of asafoetida supplementation in humans are still being investigated.
6. Helps fight infections
Asafoetida has been used to treat various types of infections caused by fungi and bacteria. Studies found that extracts of asafoetida showed beneficial impacts against several strains of bacteria. (1)(9)
7. May help in asthma management
Asafoetida has a relaxant effect on the smooth muscle cells of the lungs. (1) This helps in easing the constriction and bringing back airflow into the lungs.
The oil in the gum resin of asafoetida is useful in clearing mucus from the lungs and is used as a treatment for asthma in many cultures. (10) Studies on its dosage in humans are, however, limited.
8. Shows some cancer-protective activity
The antioxidant, anticancer, and chemoprotective effects of asafoetida may be useful as an adjunct in the prevention and treatment of cancer. (1) Test-tube studies showed that asafoetida inhibited the growth of cancer cells. (11)
However, using a natural remedy for cancer treatment with limited research among humans is strongly not advised.
How to Consume Asafoetida
Asafoetida can be used in cooking along with other spices.
Some supplements of asafoetida are also available for the management of several conditions. However, it is recommended not to consume any supplement without first consulting your doctor.
Precautions to Consider
- In a study to evaluate the toxicity of asafoetida, rats fed with large doses ranging from 25 to 200 mg per kg body weight for 6 weeks indicated some amount of toxicity in liver cells and an increase in liver enzymes. (12)
- The potential therapeutic benefits of asafoetida are witnessed at significant doses. However, it is not recommended to consume large quantities of this spice to treat or manage a chronic condition.
Most-Asked Questions About Asafoetida
How much asafoetida should I use?
Using ¼ tsp of the spice is acceptable for cooking. It can be used in main meals or as part of salad dressings.
Can I use asafoetida in pregnancy?
Use of asafoetida is not recommended when pregnant or lactating, due to the lack of research and evidence on its safety and consumption in such conditions.
Can asafoetida be applied to the skin or wounds?
Though some people use asafoetida powder as an ingredient in face masks, it is recommended not to do so as most times the powder is blended with additional ingredients to avoid clumping.
The spice may not be sterile and devoid of microorganisms and thus may exacerbate infections. Therefore, avoid direct application of asafoetida to the skin.
Asafoetida, like many other spices, may prove to be beneficial in the management of several conditions. Famed for its use in indigestion and other stomach ailments, it is also used as a treatment for asthma symptoms. This little spice also exhibits some antioxidant activity along with lowering blood pressure.
One of the most important points to consider before using asafoetida is the lack of human trials and evidence establishing a dose that may be useful therapeutically. Remember, natural remedies are not meant to replace medication or treatment, but should be used as adjuncts to a holistic treatment plan.