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Asafoetida (U. S. P.)—Asafoetida.

Fig. 31. Ferula foetida, Bunge. Photo: Ferula assa foetida 3. Preparations: Tincture of Asafetida - Emulsion of Asafetida - Syrup of Asafetida - Pills of Asafetida - Compound Pills of Asafetida - Pills of Aloes and Asafetida
Related entries: Sumbul (U. S. P.)—Sumbul - Galbanum.—Galbanum

"A gum-resin obtained from the root of Ferula foetida (Bunge), Regel"—(U. S. P.). (Ferula Narthex, Boissier; Scorodosma foetida, Bunge; Ferula asafoetida, Linné; Narthex asafoetida, Falconer; Ferula Scorodosma, Bentley and Trimen).
Nat. Ord.—Umbelliferae.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 127.

Botanical Source.—This plant has a perennial fusiform root, several inches in diameter, with a coarse, hairy summit, either simple like a parsnip, or with one or more forks; its bark is wrinkled, blackish; its internal structure fleshy and white, containing a large amount of a thick, milky, fetid, alliaceous juice. The leaves are radical, springing up in the autumn, growing vigorously during the winter, withering at the close of spring. They are several in number, 1 1/2 feet long, shining, coriaceous like those of lovage, glaucous-green, pinnated, with pinnatifid segments whose lobes are oblong and obtuse; the petioles terete, and channeled only at the base. The stem is herbaceous, 8 or 10 feet high, and about 6 inches in circumference at the base; it is solid, smooth, and clothed with membraneous sheaths The general umbels have from 10 to 20 rays; the partial ones 5 or 6 flowers. The flowers are pale-yellow, succeeded by a flat, thin, reddish-brown fruit, like that of parsnip, only rather larger and darker, and slightly hairy or rough. The plant varies somewhat owing to its location and the character of the ground (L.—Falconer-Royle).

History.—This plant is indigenous to Persia and Thibet. It was personally examined and imperfectly delineated by Kaempfer, in 1687. According to Polak it is principally gathered in the country from Ispahan to Mahior, and that part which separates Abedeh and Murgab, and is much used as a culinary article, and to remove spasm. In several provinces it is planted in gardens to keep away destructive insects. The gum-resin is obtained by incisions into the upper part of the root, or by slicing it successively in small pieces; plants under four years are not made use of, as they yield but little, if any, of the juice. When the leaves begin to decay, the root-leaves and stem are twisted off close to the root, and the soil is removed from its crown. About 40 days afterward a thin slice is cut off transversely from its top, and a milky juice of a fetid, alliaceous odor gradually exudes. In about two days, or when this exudation has become hardened, it is scraped off, and another thin slice removed as before, from which juice again flows, and this process is repeated until no more juice can be obtained; while this collection is going on the root is constantly protected from the solar rays. The concrete juice from several plants are then put together, further hardened, and disposed of for home use or foreign exportation. Host of the gum used in medicine comes from Afghanistan and Persia. The purest gum is known by the vernacular, hing. According to Dymock the brown asafoetida is produced by the Ferula alliacea, Boissier. The product principally found in our markets is that shipped from Bombay and known as hingra, a product largely admixed with stones and dirt. Dymock states that sliced potatoes have been used to adulterate asafoetida.

Description.—This gum-resin is brought to America in packages of various weights, but seldom less than 50 or 60 pounds each. The U. S. P. describes it as occurring "in irregular masses composed of whitish tears, which are imbedded in a yellowish-gray or brownish-gray, sticky mass. The tears, when hard, break with a conchoidal fracture, showing a milk-white color, which changes gradually, on exposure, to pink, and finally to brown. It has a persistent, alliaceous odor, and a bitter, alliaceous, acrid taste. When triturated with water it yields a milk-white emulsion, which becomes yellow on the addition of ammonia water. It is partly soluble in ether, and at least 60 per cent of it should dissolve in alcohol"—(U. S. P.). Those masses should be selected which are clear, of a pale, reddish color, and variegated with a great number of white tears, and on burning they should not have an odor of pitch. Berzelius and Thomson give as its specific gravity, 1.327. Age hardens it and impairs its properties; it becomes pulverable at a diminished temperature, as in frosty weather; in warm weather it becomes soft and adheres to the pestle. Moderate heat softens it so far that it may be squeezed through a coarse cloth, and freed from impurities of a mechanical nature; a stronger heat causes it to froth, and at a red heat it burns with a white flame.

Rubbed with cold or warm water, the gum is dissolved, forming a smooth white, or reddish, persistent emulsion, in which the resin and volatile oil are suspended. With rectified alcohol, which is its best menstruum, it forms a clear, yellowish-red tincture. Spirit dissolves the resin and oil, but is too feeble a solvent. Sulphuric ether dissolves the volatile oil and a portion of resin; solution of caustic potash dissolves it almost entirely, forming an emulsion when the alkali is neutralized; and solution of ammonia dissolves the gum and oil, with part of the resin. It readily unites with other resins, gum-resins, and wax; and is best preserved in bladders kept in tin boxes.

Chemical Composition.—Asafoetida contains volatile oil, resin soluble in ether, a tasteless resin insoluble in ether, various gums, sulphate of calcium, carbonate of calcium, oxide of iron, and alumina, malate of calcium, etc. The volatile oil may be obtained by distillation with water or alcohol; at first it is pale-green, but becomes yellowish-brown by age, is lighter than water, of a powerfully offensive odor, and a taste peculiar to the gum-resin; it contains sulphur (Zeise). In odor it closely resembles that of the persulphide of allyl, procured from oil of mustard. According to Schimmel & Co. (Semi-Annual Report, October, 1893) the gum-resin yields from 3.3 to 3.7 per cent of oil, having a specific gravity of 0.985, at 15° C. (59° F.), and an optical rotation of —9° 15'; and according to Semmler's investigations (1891) it contains a terpene, probably pinene; also the sulphurous combinations, C10H14S2 and C11H20S2, and, beside other compounds, a body having the formula (C10H16O)n. Fractionally distilled the volatile oil yields, at 300° C. (572° F.), a beautiful blue oil (Pharmacographia). The oil and the bitter resin are the active principles. The resin is but partially soluble in ether and is soluble in alcohol. It contains ferulaic acid (C10H10O4), a substance crystallizing in iridescent, acicular crystals, having neither taste nor odor. The resin fused with alkali yields resorcin (C6H6O2). A body named umbelliferon (C9H6O3), as well as oils of various colors, may be obtained by dry distillation of the resin. Acetic, formic, malic, and valerianic acids have also been found in asafoetida. Sulphate of calcium has been found as an adulteration of this gum-resin, occurring in commercial samples sometimes to the extent of 50 per cent. The U. S. P. requirement (60 per cent soluble in alcohol) is not reached by asafoetida of commerce. Were the standard made 40 per cent, the drug would better conform to requirements (J. U. Lloyd in Pharm. Review, 1896).

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—The odor of asafoetida is imparted to the breath, secretions, flatus, and gastric eructations. Its properties are stimulant, antispasmodic, expectorant, emmenagogue, and vermifuge (Ed.). Improper in inflammatory conditions of the system, but of marked value in purely functional nervous disorders, with excitability, and as a gastric stimulant in gastro-intestinal atony, with flatulence. It allays gastric irritation. Used in croup, pertussis, hysteria, infantile convulsions, flatulent colic, chronic catarrh, chlorosis, spasmodic nervous diseases of females, and, in combination with morphine and quinine, in sick or nervous headache. With resin of podophyllum and resin of cimicifuga, it is beneficial in chorea. Likewise efficient in amenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea, and as an injection in tympanitic abdomen, lumbricus, and ascarides. In hysteria its effects are especially good, sometimes preventing the attack if given early, or if the disorder be already developed it tends to modify its force. In the tympanitic states of the bowels during fevers, or when only constipation exists, it is a prompt remedy. As an antispasmodic it holds a secondary place, probably acting best in those disorders arising from a disordered stomach. Minute doses are asserted to increase the mammary secretion. As a remedy for bronchial cough, dry, deep-seated and stubborn, a 2-grain pill every 8 hours will give quite positive results. Asafoetida is best adapted to cases exhibiting nervous depression, with more or less feebleness, and particularly if associated with gastric derangements with constipation, flatulence, and tardy or imperfect menstruation. Dose, in powder or pill, from 5 to 10 or 20 grains; of the tincture, from 30 drops to 2 fluid drachms. Asafoetida is also employed alone, or in combination, in the form of a suppository, or an enema.

Specific Indications and Uses.—Nervous irritation, with mental depression, headache, and dizziness; hysteroidal conditions; convulsive disorders from purely functional wrongs of the stomach, gastro-intestinal irritation, with flatulence and palpitation of the heart; dry, deep, choking, bronchial cough.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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