1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Asafetida

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ASAFETIDA (asa, Lat. form of Persian aza = mastic, and fetidus, stinking, so called in distinction to asa dulcis, which was a drug highly esteemed among the ancients as laser cyrenaicum, and is supposed to have been a gummy exudation from Thapsis garganica), a gum-resin obtained principally from the root of Ferula fetida, and probably also from one or two other closely allied species of umbelliferous plants. It is produced in eastern Persia and Afghanistan, Herat and Kandahar being centres of the trade. Ferula fetida grows to a height of from 5 to 6 ft., and when the plant has attained the age of four years it is ready for yielding asafetida. The stems are cut down close to the root, and the juice flows out, at first of a milky appearance, but quickly setting into a solid resinous mass. Fresh incisions are made as long as the sap continues to flow, a period which varies according to the size and strength of the plant. A freshly-exposed surface of asafetida has a translucent, pearly-white appearance, but it soon darkens in the air, becoming first pink and finally reddish-brown. In taste it is acrid and bitter; but what peculiarly characterizes it is the strong alliaceous odour it emits, from which it has obtained the name asafetida, as well as its German name Teufelsdreck (devil’s dung). Its odour is due to the presence of organic sulphur compounds. Asafetida is found in commerce in “lump” or in “tear,” the latter being the purer form. Medicinally, asafetida is given in doses of 5 to 15 grains and acts as a stimulant to the intestinal and respiratory tracts and to the nervous system. An enema containing it is useful in relieving flatus. It is sometimes useful in hysteria, which is essentially a lack of inhibitory power, as its nasty properties induce sufficient inhibitory power to render its readministration superfluous. It may also be used in an effervescing draught in cases of malingering, the drug “repeating” in the mouth and making the malingering not worth while. The gum-resin is relished as a condiment in India and Persia, and is in demand in France for use in cookery. In the regions of its growth the whole plant is used as a fresh vegetable, the inner portion of the full-grown stem being regarded as a luxury.