Narthex Asafoetida. Asafoetida.

Description: Natural Order, Umbelliferae. The Ferula asafoetida of some writers. This plant is a native of Persia, Afghanistan, and contiguous Asiatic provinces. The following description is abridged from Willdenow: Stem herbaceous, six to nine feet high, erect, smooth, without branches, two inches in diameter below, terminating in a very large head of compact umbels. Leaves radical, numerous, nearly two feet long, three-parted, spreading, leathery, light-green above; segments oblong-lanceolate, bipinnatifid; the stem rising in the midst of this leafy mass. Flowers small, pale-yellow. Root perennial, fleshy, tapering, about three inches at the top.

The roots of this plant abound in a thick, milky juice, which has a peculiar and intense odor, rather of a garlic fetor. This juice, when collected and dried, constitutes the part used in medicine. It is gathered as the leaves begin to fade. The leaves and stem are twisted off, a slice cut transversely from the top of the root, and the leaves thrown over it to shield it as effectually as possible from the sun. In a few days, the exuded juice (which has partially dried) is scraped off; a new slice cut from the root; and thus the process continued for about six weeks, or so long as any juice exudes. Old plants yield most abundantly. This dried juice comes to market in mottled yellowish-red masses, rather soft, breaking with an irregular fracture, somewhat whitish within, but all exposed parts steadily changing to a yellowish-brown. It can scarcely be dried so as to become pulverizable; but softens at even a moderate heat, though it does not melt. It will burn with a clear flame; and tenaciously retains its peculiar fetor, which is diffusive and very penetrating.

This dried exudation consists of about 65 percent of a resinous substance, 20 percent of a gum, 4 percent of a volatile oil, (on which its odor seems to depend,) and small quantities of other substances. The oil contains considerable portions of sulphur. It forms a clear tincture with alcohol, to which menstruum it yields probably all its virtues; and the addition of water at once makes this tincture milky. Triturated with water, it parts with a considerable portion of its properties, and makes a pinkish-white emulsion.

Properties and Uses: This gum (gum-resin) is diffusively stimulating in its action, with a fair portion of relaxing property. Its chief influence is expended upon the nervous peripheries, which it affects rather promptly; and it also influences the capillary and smaller arterial circulation somewhat, and expends a portion of its influence upon mucous membranes, especially those of the lungs–being classed among the prompt stimulating expectorants and mild laxatives. It is chiefly valued for its influence upon the nervous tissues, being a peculiar but valuable antispasmodic. It is of great efficacy in all forms of nervousness, restlessness, nervous irritability, hysteria, and hypochondriasis, when associated with fatigue and loss of acting power; but is not suitable in any of these or other cases, when there is inflammation, febrile excitement, or erethism. In spasms and cramps in the bowels, and in neuralgic pains through the womb, it is also excellent; and though hysteria is looked upon as. a reproach by many, and asafoetida is hence often considered to be a rather disgraceful remedy to use, it is nevertheless among the most serviceable agents for the large class of purely nervous functional disturbances above named.

As an expectorant, it is at present but little used; but may be combined advantageously with such relaxant and demulcent articles as convallaria, aralia, liriodendron, and eupatorium, and used in old coughs, catarrhal affections, hooping-cough, and similar pectoral affections where there is no local inflammation, but a lack of nervous energy. It promotes menstruation quite decidedly, especially if combined with myrrh and caulophyllum in atonic cases; and with relaxing evacuants it exerts a distinct impression upon the bowels. Given by injection, it affects the ganglionic system promptly; and is of signal efficacy in relieving the bowels of large accumulations of flatus.

The unpleasant odor of this article, is an objection to its common use; but it is not often disagreeable to the stomach, and most persons soon become partial to its smell. Its volatile oil is in part absorbed. From five to ten grains may be given; at a dose, and repeated at intervals of twenty-four, twelve, six, or four hours. A drachm or more may be given by injection, when formed into an emulsion with warm water.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Milk of Asafoetida. This mixture (emulsion) is formed by rubbing two drachms of the gum with half a pint of warm water. It is most suitable for purposes of injection; but may also be given by the stomach in doses of a fluid ounce or more, when its intense smell in this form is not objectionable.

II. Tincture. Four ounces of asafoetida macerated for two weeks in a quart of alcohol, and then filtered, forms the officinal tincture. It is sometimes used by the stomach in urgent cases, when a very quick action is needed; but is oftener employed by enema. Dose, a fluid drachm or more.

III. Wine Tincture. Rub half an ounce of asafoetida with ten fluid drachms of white wine. Each drachm of this mixture contains fifteen grains of asafoetida. This is mostly used in preparing the aqueous mixture, as it saves much time in trituration.

IV. Sirup. Mr. Peltz, in the American Journal of Pharmacy, proposes a sirup of asafoetida by rubbing an ounce of the gum resin in enough boiling water to form a soft paste, then gradually adding enough boiling water to make a pint in all, straining, and dissolving in it two pounds of sugar. This is one of the pleasantest of the fluid preparations, to be used the same as the mixture.

V. Pills. An ounce and a half of asafoetida and half an ounce of soap are to be beaten with a little water, so as to form a uniform pill mass; and then divided into two hundred and forty pills. (U. S. P.) Each pill contains three grains of the medicine, and from one to three may be used at a time. The pill form is the best for concealing the taste and smell of the drug.

VI. Compound Pills. Asafoetida, one ounce; valerian, two drachms; capsicum, twenty grains. Beat thoroughly together in a warm mortar; or add a small quantity of essence of peppermint, and beat in a cold mortar. Form into four-grain pills. Roll these in powdered ulmus; and when dry, dip quickly into strong essence of peppermint, and again roll in ulmus. By this means, a very excellent disguising coat is made to the gum. I greatly prize these pills for nervine and antispasmodic purposes, and would urge them upon the attention of the profession. One or two may be given as a dose, and repeated as needed.

VII. Suppositories. For the past few years, I have occasionally employed this agent in the form of suppositories, made with white wax, and sweet oil in quantities just sufficient to make properly soft. These melted articles, before getting cold, are beaten with the asafoetida, and formed into conical suppositories–each containing five grains of the drug. One of these may be inserted into the rectum every twenty-four or twelve hours; and will exert a very desirable influence in lingering hysterical and nervous atony requiring a gentle but persistent action of this kind. They are applicable to but a few cases; but for these cases are far preferable to any enema of this article.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at