Nat. Ord. — Apiaceae, or Umbelliferae. Sex. Syst. — Pentandria Digynia.
Concrete Juice of the Root of Ferula Assafoetida.
Description. — Ferula Assafoetida, Linnaeus, or Narthex Assafoetida, Falconer, is described by Koempfer, who wrote from actual observation. It has a perennial, fleshy, tapering root, with a coarse hairy, or fibrous summit, about the size of a man's leg when full-grown, either simple like a parsnep, or with one or more forks ; externally it is blackish, internally white, and abounding in a very fetid, opake, milky juice. The leaves are radical, six or seven in number, nearly two feet long, shining, coriaceous, deep-green, pinnated, with pinnatifid segments whose lobes are oblong and obtuse ; petiole terete, amplexicaul, channeled only at the base. The leaves grow vigorously through the winter, and wither at the termination of spring. From the midst of the leaves, rises a luxuriant, herbaceous stern, from six to ten feet high, two inches in diameter at the base, solid, simple, erect, round, smooth, striated, the spongy medulla traversed by bundles of tough, fibrous vessels, the surface clothed with the remains of persistent leafless petioles, and terminating in large plano-convex umbels with numerous radii. The flowers are pale-yellow ; the fruit is flat, oval, thin, reddish-brown, slightly hairy or rough. The plant varies in its appearance, according to its situation and soil.
History. — This plant is a native of Persia. The gum-resin is prepared from incisions into the upper portion of the root, or by taking successive slices from it ; plants under four years are not made use of, as they yield but little, if any, of the juice. At the time the leaves begin to fade, the root-leaves and stem are twisted off close to the root, and the soil is removed from its crown. About forty days afterward, a thin slice is cut off transversely from its summit, 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. The assafoetida in this country is either from India, or Great Britain, in mats, cases or casks, of from eighty pounds to several hundreds each.
This gum-resin as met with in the shops is in masses of different sizes, rather soft, varying in color, becoming reddish, and finally a dull yellowish-brown on exposure to the atmosphere ; on being broken it presents a shining, whitish surface, and changes color as it becomes exposed. The masses have an irregular, amygdaloid appearance, being composed of whitish tears agglutinated together. Sometimes the tears are to be had separate ; they are oval, irregular, of the size of a pea or larger, brownish externally, white internally, and of weaker odor than that of the masses. The better the article is in the masses, the greater the quantity of tears, with but a small portion of the dark, soft, agglutinating material in which they are imbedded. Assafoetida has a fetid, tenacious and alliaceous odor, and a strong, peculiar, persistent, bitterish, and rather acrid taste. Age hardens it and renders it brittle, beside diminishing its taste and odor. It can only be pulverized at a low temperature, as in frosty weather ; in warm weather it softens under 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 up, and at a red heat it burns with clear, lively flame. Its specific gravity is 1.327. Rubbed with cold or warm water, the gum is dissolved, forming a smooth white or pink-colored persistent emulsion, in which the resin and volatile oil are suspended. With rectified alcohol it forms a clear tincture, which is its best menstruum. 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 potassa 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.
Assafoetida contains volatile oil, resin soluble in ether, a tasteless resin insoluble in ether, gum, bassorin, sulphate of lime, carbonate of lime, oxide of iron and alumina, malate of lime, etc. The volatile oil may be procured 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. This and the bitter resin are the active principles.
Properties and Uses. — Stimulant, antispasmodic, expectorant, emmenagogue, and feebly laxative. Improper in inflammatory conditions of the system. Used in hysteria, hypochondria, convulsions, spasmodic nervous diseases of females, spasm of the stomach and bowels, various irregular nervous disorders which accompany debility of the nervous system, and, in combination with morphia and quinia, in sick or nervous headache. With podophyllin and cimicifugin it is beneficial in chorea. Also useful in pertussis, asthma, infantile coughs and catarrhs, croup, measles, etc., whenever there is a want of nervous energy, or disposition to sink. Likewise efficient in amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea, and as an injection in tympanitic abdomen, lumbricus and ascarides. Dose, in powder or pill, from five to ten grains ; of the tincture, from half a drachm to two drachms.
Off. Prep. — Enema Assafoetidae Composita; Tinctura Assafoetidae ; Tinctura Castorei Ammoniata.