Skip to main content

Is Asafoetida the panacea we were looking for?

asafoetida stone
Known as devil dung, stink gum etc. ferula, commonly known as 'hing' in Hindi, Asafoetida is a pungent smelling sap of an underground rhizome that grows primarily in Iran, Afghanistan, China and India. Famous in many cuisines as a flavour enhancer, asafoetida has long been an important ingredient in traditional remedies for combating trouble in the digestive tract, respiratory tract and even been used as a traditional contraceptive. Ferula asafoetida is also a popular home medicine for cough, cholera and chronic bronchitis. Because of its pungent odour and taste, it is many times used as a cure for hysteria as well.

But like every traditional remedy, the medical value of Asafoetida is not taken very seriously. This trend of disregarding local medicines and home remedies can somewhere be related to the lack of having sufficient scientific backing. And like many home remedies, the trend of following it blindly through generations, doesn’t really help its cause in an age of growing scientific awareness. Which thus leads to us disregarding it, calling it backward and baseless, only to be corrected a little later when western medicine finally accepts it and it receives recognition.

Asafoetida powder

Asafoetida has long been used as an herb for traditional medicine and as flavouring for the Indian cuisine. But thanks to our quest to unravel nature and bust myths of traditional practice and to finally put an end to our speculation, we have, on many occasions, come to appreciate our findings.

In an interesting study done in 2009, Lee et al, took a closer look at the “claimed” properties of Asafoetida and managed to come up with interesting facts and figures. The study demonstrated that there were many potent antiviral compounds in f. asafoetida. A sum total of more than 30 compounds were isolated with over 20 compounds being antiviral, anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer in nature. The study goes a step further and tests the isolated compounds for their anti-viral and cytotoxic properties with various bio assays.

sesquiterpene coumarins

Two new sesquiterpene coumarins, designated 5′-acetoxy-8′-hydroxyumbelliprenin (1) and 10′R-acetoxy-11′-hydroxyumbelliprenin (2), and a new diterpene, 15-hydroxy-6-en-dehydroabietic acid (3), along with 27 known compounds, were isolated from a CHCl3-soluble extract of Ferula assa-foetida through bioassay-guided fractionation. Structures of the new metabolites 13 were identified by spectroscopic data interpretation and by the Mosher ester method. Compounds 4 and 613 showed greater potency against influenza A virus (H1N1) (IC500.26−0.86 μg/mL) than amantadine (IC50 0.92 μg/mL), and 11 exhibited the best potency (IC500.51, 2.6, and 3.4 μg/mL) of these compounds against the HepG2, Hep3B, and MCF-7 cancer cell lines, respectively. Image and text credit. Lee et al 2009. PMID: 19691312
The results that were obtained from the bioassays performed showed that the compounds that were isolated from f. asafoetida demonstrated powerful anti-viral properties. In fact the compounds that were being tested did far better than the control, amatadine, which is a popular antiviral drug in the market. The team also looked at the cytotoxic properties of the compound and found a few compounds that demonstrated powerful cytotoxic properties, having inhibited rapid cell multiplication making it a potential therapeutic agent against cancer, 

Traditional medicines and home remedies have been around for a while and seem to have something to offer for every ailment, right from a common cough and cold to psoriasis and migraine. It is high time we took a closer look at them and the properties they offer rather than just disregard them on grounds of having no scientific backing for their claims. Studies like these show us the importance of keeping an unbiased and an open mind to every thing. Just because something has been followed for generations does not necessarily mean it is blind faith. This is exactly what science teaches us, not to accept things at their face value. Rerum Cognoscere Causas, to discover the cause of things.


Lee CL, Chiang LC, Cheng LH, Liaw CC, Abd El-Razek MH, Chang FR, & Wu YC (2009). Influenza A (H(1)N(1)) Antiviral and Cytotoxic Agents from Ferula assa-foetida. Journal of natural products, 72 (9), 1568-72 PMID: 19691312


Popular posts from this blog

Do free energy magnetic motors really work?

The internet is rife with websites that promote generators that are capable of providing electricity without using any fuel. Built largely with magnets, these 'free energy generators' promise to cut your electricity bills and provide a much greener alternative to the electricity that is largely generated out of fossil fuels. Elaborate videos that give you estimates of how much money you can save without revealing any details of how to go about it, manage to keep the audience hooked on for a while, but $40 price tag, the loads of freebies and the instant $10 discount for not leaving the page, make the product and its seller highly suspicious. So, we decided to find out if these free energy magnetic motors really work?

The Principle

The magnetic motor works on the simple principle that we all already know, 'Like poles repel each other while opposite poles attract each other'. By arranging the magnets in a fashion where only like poles face each other, one can simply set t…

Why Sci-Hub’s story is so crucial to science?

On the 28th of October 2015, Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling at the New York district court declared that the website be blocked with immediate effect and managed to stop hundreds and thousands of researchers and science enthusiasts from accessing the holy grail of today’s science, the research paper.
What should be a simple means to communicate to the world one’s research findings, has become a currency of some sort. A ticket to a researcher’s professional success, a magnet for an investigator to attract funding for his lab and the elusive piece of the puzzle that the publishing group can hold you ransom for, until you cough up some good cash ($30 or above for a single article and thousands of dollars for a bundled annual subscription)
What Judge Sweet termed as a “disservice (to) public interest”, is actually a small website that allows you access to scientific research, old and new, and for free. Sci- Hub. Org, started in 2011, as a trusted place to access research …

Generating electricity from flapping tree leaves

As kids, you might have spent many afternoons, under a huge tree, enjoying its shade. In a tropical country like India, trees are a welcome sight in the month of May, when the sun is blazing in the sky and the shade offered by them is a hundred thousand times better than artificial cooling of the air conditioning units. But never in our dream would we have thought that the rustling of the tiny leaves of the trees could one day make electricity for us.Because that requires a Hendersonian moment! (just in a bit)

This brilliant idea has come from the lab of a biophysicist at Iowa State University, Dr. Michael McCloskey, whose work at the University largely involves the study of membrane transport in algae and adult born neurons but also has a background in plant sciences. It was his colleague in the department of genetics, Dr. Eric Henderson who first came up with this plan of harvesting energy from leaves as he wondered how much kinetic energy was being generated when winds blow across l…

5 things driverless cars will do to change our future?

The race for building the world’s first commercially available driverless car is on. Google seems to be leading the pack and in its own charismatic style has been very open about it. Elon Musk’s Tesla is considered the second best with their cars having almost automated the driving process. Tech favourites, Apple also seem to be in the race but everything is under wraps, as of now, and there is not even a hint of what Apple is planning to make, the car, the software or simply make the car accessible with your Apple ID.
Once part of science fiction, driverless cars will soon be a part of our lives and with major automobile manufacturers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford investing in the technology, prototypes of driverless cars will soon be seen on the roads. Before we get there, a quick review.
The Driverless car
The concept of automated driving has been around for close to a century but progress was slow due to unavailability of technology. For a car to be autonomous, it needs to kno…

Solar cells that work in rain

In case you have read my last month’s guest post about harvesting solar energy in rust, you would be delighted to know that there has been yet another breakthrough in our attempt to harness solar energy.  For many years, solar energy has been targeted for being unavailable at night and during rains. The problem of utilizing solar energy at night can be resolved with the help of metal oxide cells as elaborated in my above post (do read it, if you have not done so already). And now researchers at the Ocean University in China have addressed the second problem and developed solar cells that can actually use rain drops to generate electricity.
Published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, the paper titled, A Solar Cell Triggered by Sun and Rain, opens a new realm of possibilities when harnessing solar energy. Coating the solar cell with a thin film of graphene allows the cell to function even when it is raining. Graphene is nothing but reduced form of graphite that consists of a hone…