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Review Article



Asafoetida (Heeng): The Well Known MedicinalCondiment of India & Iran

Shah N.C. and *Amir Zare
Department of Biotechnology, Institute of Medicinal plant, Iranian Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research (ACECR),
Kavosh St., Tehran Qazvin highway (km 55), Karaj, Alborz, Iran.

The paper deals with the Ferula species, which yield 'Asafoetida' or 'Heeng', an oleo-gumresin commonly used as a condiment and spice and also in
traditional medicine, in number of countries. It deals with the distribution of the 'Asafoetida' yielding species, the method of extraction, the chemical
constituents of the oleo-resin, its pharmacology and its uses in different parts of the world and in India & Iran. The different varieties of 'Heeng' used
to be sold in Indian bazaar.

Asafoetida (Heeng) is a well known medicine and condiment of India,
Pakistan and Persia (Iran). India consumes about 70 % of the world
produce as a culinary and in medicine and supply (re-export) it. It is
recorded that only a few species of Ferula yield Asafoetida.
In this paper efforts have been made to collect information about all the
species , that yield Asafoetida, and used in medicine and as spice in
culinary(cooking). Its chemical constituents and the pharmacology of
the chemical compound and its present status has also been reviewed.
Different names and etymology of the condiment:
Asafoetida has a strong , characteristic odour and the name Asafoetida
originates from the Persian word aza (mastic resin) and a Latin word
foetida, meaning bad-stinking resin. It is also called 'devil's dung'
because of its strong pungent smell, which is due to the presence of sulfur
The perennial Asafoetida plants are native to the region between the
Mediterranean and Central Asia, especially, Iran, Turkey and
Afghanistan and most of the world's production of Asafoetida comes
from the above two countries. India is the major consumer as well as the
supplier (re-exporter) of this condiment.
The species that yield Asafoetida : According to Santapau & Henri,
(1973) there are about 130 species of Ferula found in the world, and only
4 have been reported from India,. However, Nasir & Ali (1974) report
140 species of Ferula, and out of these 11 are found in Pakistan .
Asafoetida' is a hard aromatic resinous gum, which has a strong
characteristic smell due to the presence of sulphur compounds, which is
used as a spice and medicine, in number of countries but only a few
Ferula species yield 'Asafoetida' or 'Heeng'.
The condiment 'Asafoetida' or 'Heeng' is basically comes to India from
Iran (Persia) and Afghanistan since time immemorial. The species which
yield 'Heeng' are; F. assa-foetida Linn, from Iran Turkey and
Afghanistan and F. narthex Boiss from Afghanistan Baltistan, Astore,
Kashmir(Pakistan), and W. Tibet and F. alliacea Boiss from Iran and
According to Rau (1975,p.113) in the West Himalaya only one species,
i.e., F. jaeschkeana Vatke. is reported from Kashmir, Lahul (3600m), it
is a large shrub with cauline sheath and large compound leaves . The
umbels are large and bear large yellow owers and large ovoid fruits.

However, when I visited Ladakh in 1975, I was especially told by

Dr.L.D.Kapur our Ofcer-in-charge to collect the plant and its oleoresin. Unfortunately, we could not see and collect the plant, only some
folk information was collected. It is locally known as 'Kalindoor
'(Kashmiri), Hortung prongos (Balti) and 'Thukn (Ladakhi). Its latex is
applied on cuts & wounds. It was further stated that Ferula narthex Boiss
is recorded by the Balti people at Gund village near Sonmarg and they
prepare Asafoetida from the latex of the root/rhizome but no sample
could be collected, Raghunathan, & Ramadas, (Eds) (1978, p.46.).
Botanical sources of Asafoetida (Heeng): As we know 'Asafoetida' is a
oleo-resin from the Ferula. Species. Dutt (1928) had reported the
following species: F.alliaceae Boiss, F. foetida Regel (F. assa-foetida
Linn) and F.galbaniua Boiss & Buhse. And, Asolkar et al (1992) had
reported, F.alliaceae, F.assa-foetida, F.galbaniua, F.jaeschkeana and
F.narthex. However, Farooqi (2008, p.125) has listed the following
species, Ferula foetida Regel. (F. Assa-foetida Linn); Ferula alliacea
Boiss; F.rubricaulis Boiss and F. narthex Boiss.
Not only oleo-resin of the species of Ferula are used but in Turkey
Ferula orientalis and F.communis known in Turkish, Erkek, Caskir
and Cavsir the herb is used as condiment and exported, However, the
following Ferula species do not yield ' Heeng' but other products, which
are used to mix with it an these are; F. galbaniua Boiss & Buhse yields
Galbanum; F. persica Willd (known as Sagapenum, Sagbinaj); F.
sumbul Hook. f (sumbul musk root); F. szowitziana DC (sagapenum,
Coppen (1995,p.108) has very clearly described the Ferula species
which yield 'Asafoetida' or 'Heeng' and are; Ferula assa-foetida, F.
alliacea, F. narthex, and F.foetida Regel and F.rubricaulis Bois.
However, the species like F.galbaniua Boiss & Buhse, yields
Galbanum, and its oleo-gumresin is often mixed with 'Asafoetida' as a
extraneous matter. Extracts of the oleo-gumresin and the distilled
essential oil contains a number of sulphurous compounds and they are
used to limited extentas perfume xatives.
Different Names: The asafoetida is known by different names in
different languages such as; anghuzeh, angoz (Persian Farsi); asafotida
Recieved: February 2004
Accepted: March 2004
*Corresponding Author
E mail :


Review Article
fusiform root and also known as
'giant fennels'. Stem base brous
leaves are bi-pinnately
compound, umbels are not
pubescent like F. assa-foetida
and are up to 30 cm. Petals
yellow, fruits 10-12 mm long.
The Britishers were very keen to
know whether Narthex foetida
(Ferula narthex) another source
of Asafoetida, occurs in Kashmir
or not. Lawrence (1895)
Ferula species
reported that the plant was
present in Doian in the Astor
Tehsil (now in Pakistan). He was the rst to suggest that the plant should
be brought out under experimental cultivation in Astor in Kashmir
(under British rule). He further mentioned that the natives use the plant
in cooking (as vegetable) and the latex is used after drying as asafoetida.

F.assafoetida full grown plant growing wild in Iran

(Spanish); asafoetida, awei (Chinese); aza (Greek); devil's dung; frule

persique or merde dudiable (French); haltit or tyib Hilleet (Arabic);
heeng (Commonly); 'OHeengu'; (Kannad); yangu( Kashmir); yangu,
kayam (Malyalam); perunkgayam (Tamil); inguva (Telgu); lesu
(Karnataka); heeng (Hindi); mvuje (Swahili);stink
asantorteufelsdreck(German); hingu, sahastravedi, jatuk, bahlik, ramath
(Sanskrit). In Afghanistan it is known by different names such as;
anjodan, heng, meliat, angoza, cahir, angoda, henja, (Younos et.
1.Ferula assafoetida, the main species from which Asafoetida is
collected: Ferula assafoetida Linn. syn F. foetida Regel (Umbelliferae,)
is a monoecious, herbaceous, perennial plant . It is giant plant 2-3 m tall,
with a circular mass of 3040 cm. Leaves compound, 2-4 pinnate very
large and bipinnate, pubescent; segments oblong entire, obtuse. Stem
leaves cauline have wide sheath 'Heeng' petioles. Flowering stems 10
cm thick and hollow, with a number of schizogenous ducts in the cortex
region containing the resinous gum. Flowers are pale greenish yellow
produced in large compound umbels. With numerous stem leaves
Inorescence densely pubescent. Petals whitish yellow, persistent.
Fruits broadly oblong to suborbicular about 1 cm long and 8mm broad,
winged and oval, at, thin, reddish brown and have a milky juice. They
yield a resin similar to that of the stems. Root is a large pulpy thick taproot. All parts of the plant have the distinctive foetid smell.
Distribution: F. assa-foetida is native to central Asia, eastern Iran to
Afghanistan, and today, it is said to be grown chiey in Iran and
Afghanistan, from where it is exported to the rest of the world.
It is distributed in the steppes of Iran & Afghanistan, USSR, and West
Pakistan and further distributed to
the Zagros and Alburz mountain
chain and south of the country up
to Persian Gulf. It is mostly found
at an altitude of 190-2400 m and
land with a slopes of 15-70% with
an annual average precipitation of
250-350 mm (Shad 1995 quoted
by Nadja et. al., 2006).

A owering branch

1.Ferula narthex : The other

species from which asafoetida is
extracted is F. narthex Boiss, and
the plant is 1.5-2 m tall with

Distribution : It is distributed in Afghanistan, USSR and West

Pakistan, Baltistan, Booston, Gilgit, Astore and also in Western Tibet.
Earlier, the lamas (the natives of western Tibet used to collect 'asafoetida'
and sell it with other Himalayan indigenous condiments. Dutt (1928)
also report F. alliacea Boiss as another source, which was known in India
as 'Multani heeng' and grows in Eastern Persia(Iran), Khorasan and &
Kirman. It was mostly of Reddish colour and used for cooking purpose
1.Ferula galbaniua (Galbanum) : Dutt (1928) further refers that
Ferula galbaniua Boiss & Buhse reported to occur in throughout
Persia(Iran) especially in Shiraz and Kirman. About 50 yrs ago in
Indian bazaar it was known as 'Gandh biroja'or 'Gaoshir'. In English
known as Galbanum and its oleo-gum resin is of pea size and greenish
yellow. Earlier, Galbanum used as medicine as an expectorant and as a
plaster for the broken bones. Now it is seldom seen in the market and
mostly it used to mix with 'heeng'.
However, Chopra (1958) reports that 'Asafoetida' also collected from
other species of F. rubricaulis and Ferula alliaceae Boiss. The sap is
collected just before the plants start owering. This milky liquid soon
coagulates when exposed to air. The color darkens when it is sun dried
into a solid form. Asafoetida is sold in blocks or pieces as a gum and
more frequently as a ne powder, sometimes reformed into a crystalline
or granulated preferred in the market.
Various methods of extraction 'Asafoetida' from Ferula sp. in
different countries :
Generally, just prior to the owering stage the plants are cut above the
ground and the taproot/rhizome exposed. A small quantity of latex
exudes and this is collected after every few days; exposure to the air
causes the latex to form rst a soft exudates and then solidify, which is
hard and discoloured. Some times the root is sliced every few days to
produce more exudates, Coppen (1995,p.108). In Iran it is extracted
from the Ferula sp. which have massive taproots or carrot-shaped roots,
12.5-15 cm in diameter at the crown when they are 4-5 years old. Just
before the plants ower, in March-April, the upper part of the living
rhizome root is laid bare and the stem chopped off close to the crown. A
dome-shaped structure made of twigs and stone and earth to cover up the
exposed surface. A milky juice exudes from the cut surface. After some
days, the exudates are scraped off and a fresh slice of the root cut when
more latex exudes; sometimes the resin is removed along with the slice.
The collection of resin and slicing of the root are repeated until exudation
ceases (about 3 months after the rst cut). The resin is sometimes
collected from successive incisions made at the junction of the stem or
rhizome and the taproots.


Review Article
Harvesting of oleo-gum resin from the plant is different in different
countries. In Afghanistan, that root upper portion is sliced off with a
sharp knife and from the cut portion exudates start oozing and it is
collected after two days. The cut portion is guarded with a heap of stones
to protect it from sun-heat,
Research has shown
that four times incision
is the best harvest
method for plant
productivity and
growth, (Khosrogerdi
1999 quoted by
Nadja et. al., 2006).
Asafoetida is native to
central Asia, eastern
Iran to Afghanistan,
and, it is stated that it
is now grown chiey
A collector collecting the oleoresin from the
i n I r a n a n d
plant cut portion.
Afghanistan, where it
is extracted and processed and exported to the rest of the world.
4, F. jaeschkeana Vatke and its essential oil, asafetida chemical
composition: Though, Lawrence (1895) for the rst time reported that
F. jaeschkeana contains pleasant celery smell. This is the only species of
Ferula from which the asafoetida (oleo-gumresin) is extracted in India
and used to adulterate the commercial Asafoetida imported from Iran and
The rst report of the analysis of oil was conducted by Chaudhari et al in
1959, Gulati, et. al., 1976, Kapahi et. al., 1985 and Garg et al 1988
quoted by Hussain et. al., (1988).
Essential oil: However, Husain et. al.,(1988) conducted chemical
analysis of the oil yielded from the rhizome from F. jaeschkeana . It was
thought, possibly the oil from rhizome could be used, in culinary as a
condiment or spice like actual 'Heeng'. The analysis of the oil from
rhizome yielded the following components employing GC-MS,NMR
and IR.; - pinenene -79.56% , camphene-0.97,%, -pinenene 12.72%,
p-cymene 0.16%, terpenolene 0.16%, linalool 0.04%, camphor 0.24%,
citronellal 0.12%, borneol-0.12%, iso-bornyl acetate in traces, nerol
0.08%, anethole 0.13, iso-eugenol 0.20%, aceto-eugenol in traces and
cadinene 0.19%. ( Garg et al quoted by Hussain et al (1988). But the
intention to replace natural 'Heeng' in India through this oil could not be

A collected material which would be graded

successful as they did not know that F. jaeschkeana is not the main
source of asafoetida or Heeng and its oleo-resin, is only used to
adulterate the commercial asafoetida.
The oleo-gum resin or Asafoetida : No doubt, that 'Heeng' is an oleoresin content of Ferula spp. The oleo-gumresin, obtained by the
extraction with n-hexane, yield 9%. The oleo-gumresin after
hydrodistillation yielded a
greenish yellow oil 26%. The gas
chromatographic studies
showed the following chemical
constituents, pinene- 48.93,
camphene- 0.36%, -pinene12.75%, borneol traces,
terpineol traces, p-cymene0.13%,cineole- 3.78%,
camphor- 0.15%, iso-borny
acetate- 0.21%, nerol- 0.09%,
anethole- 1.15 %,
caryophyllene- 0.77%,
The oleo- gum-resin.
isoeugenol- 1.2% and 1cadinene- 2.36 %, (Kapahi et. al.,
1985 quoted by Hussain et . al., 1988).
Chemistry & Pharmacology: The Iran Asafoetida contains resin
40.65%, gum 25% and essential oil 4-20 %. The oleo-gumresin contain
mainly, asa-resinottol free or combined with ferolic acid, umbeliferon
free or combined. Essential oil constitute of Secondary butyl propinol
disulphide, a trisulphide pinene, and the odour is due to disulphide,(Zare
personal communication).
Pharmacological, chemical & anti bacterial properties: Arora in
1977, Sharma et. al., (1977) enumerated the following pharmacological
action of asafoetida collected from Bazar sample, stimulant,
carminative, antispasmodic, expectorant, and laxative, anthelmintic,
diuretic, aphrodisiac and emmenagogue and also a nervine stimulant.
The chemical compounds present are; organic sulphur compound;
volatile5% containing garlic-allyl, allyl persulphide and two terpenes, a
resin 65%, ferulic acid ester of asarsino-tannol; free ferulic acid; gum25% and ash- 4% also malic, acetic, formic and valerianic acid (Sharma
et al 1977,p.40). However, Gopalan et al (1996,p.71) reported Mg-80;
Cu.-O.43;Mn-1.12;Zn-0.83;Cr-0.079; Protein-4.0; Fat1.1; Minerals7.0;bre4.1;Carbohydrate67.8;Energy-460 kcal;Calcium-690 mg;
Phosphorus-50 mg ;Iron-39.4 mg.

The oleo-gum-resin along with blended 'Asafoetida with diluents, like

wheat our, starch and other ground oleoresin


Review Article
Dymock et. al., (1890-1893, pp. pp. 233-238) had described oleo-resin
as a powerful antispasmodic, expectorant, and anthelmintic, a nervine
stimulant, and a feeble laxative, It useful in hysteria, and hysterical ts
also in spasmodic affections such as asthma and whooping cough,
angina pectoris atulent colic, etc. It produces remarkable effects in
the advanced stages of pneumonia and bronchitis in children. Heeng
has been used as medicine variously in different parts of the world by
different people. Honigberger, (1852, p.235), who was a physician with
Raja Ranjeet Singh of Panjab. He wrote, Hakim consider the gum as a
stomachic and use it to disperse induration to carry of urine and to
promote menstruation and use it in diarrhea.'
In Yemen, according to Fleurentin & Pelt (1982) it is imported and used
as amulet and tied in neck in cloth and it is used as an analgesic.

The crude oleo-gum-resin.

The Ferula narthex Boiss essential oil (possibly from oleo-gumresin)

has antibacterial properties against Streptococcus faecalis,
Corynobacterium diphtheriae; Strepto pyogerues and P.solanacearum,
(Ikram & Hussain 1978).

Various uses of the oleo-resin heeng' in different parts of the


Test for Asafoetida: According to Handa & Kapoor (1988, p.180)

Asafoetida contains about 20% of volatile oil, 40-65% of resin and
about 25% of gum The oil has characteristic alliaceous Odour, which is
due to presence of a number of organic disulphide especially isobutyl
proponyl disulphide. The resin contains asaresinol ferulate and free
ferulic acid. Due to presence of free ferulic acid ,Asafoetida shows
combined umbelliferone test. Ferulic acid when treated with
Hydrochloric acid is converted into umbellic acid, which loses water
and forms lactone-7-OH coumarin, i.e. umbelliferone, which on
treatment with ammonia gives blue orescence. This is also the test of

ii. Asafoetida is used as a tenderizer and preservative for meat was

known centuries ago.

The above recorded analysis has no signicant value as we do not know

from which species of Ferula the oleo-resin was collected . It is required
that the species of Ferula ,which are used to yield 'Asafoetida' be
analysed individually and in this the scientists of Iran and Afghanistan
should collect the well identied material and the Indian chemists of the
National Laboratories conduct the chemical analysis of the Asafoetida
and other parts of the plant and their essential oil.
The adulteration: Pure 'Heeng' is adulterated with wheat our, small
stone particles and with other cheap oleo-gum resins. For testing its
quality a small peace of 'Heeng'is dropped slowly in a glass of water. The
particle gradually sinks leaving behind a milky-streak and then whole
water turns up milky. Pure 'Heeng' burns in re.
Various medicinal uses of Asafoetida: Asafoetida is used in European
countries as a spice to blend and as a avouring for meat sauces, pickles,
currys and other food products . Since it is a strong in taste and odour so
it is often blended with diluents such as starch and our and sold in a
compounded form.
Garga, Devisaran (1971) has mentioned a number of Ayurvedic and
Unani medicines, where 'Asafoetida' is much used in proprietary
medicines such as;, Raj parvartini
vati,Heeng Karpur vati, Heeng
wastak churna, Heengvadi vati,
Atisar har vati, Hysteria vati,Heeng
wadi kwath, Heeng udwasakam
churnam, Heengunawak churna,
Heeng upanchakam churna,
Heeng wadi churna of 20 types,
with different crude drug
composition. Similarly, three types
of Heeng wadi Ghritam are
available in the market .along with
Kayam churna.

i. The main use of Asafoetida is as a avouring condiment.

iii. It was a popular spice in Europe since the Roman times and a muchpreferred spice of the Middle Ages. Iranian cuisine uses it for avoring
meat-balls, and in Afghanistan it is used in the preparation of dried meat.
iv. Its use in ancient herbal medicine dates to the seventh century B.C.
The clay tablets in the library of King Assurbanipal of Assyria identied
250 vegetable drugs including Asafoetida.
v. Asafoetida emerged as a substitute for the now-extinct precious spice
silphium (also called lasar) during Alexander the Great's invasion of
Asia. The Roman historian recounts the discovery of Asafoetida by the
soldiers of Alexander. While crossing the Hindu Kush Mountains of
Afghanistan, they discovered the Asafoetida plant. Although not quite so
good, it made a perfect substitute for silphium in tenderizing hard meat.
vi. It is well known that Prophet Muhammad use to treat the patients who
so ever came to him and he had mentioned many plants in Quran,
(Farooqi 2010), but Asafoetida is not mentioned any where ?
vii. In Thailand and India, it is used to aid digestion and is smeared on the
abdomen in an alcohol or water tincture. It is also said to be helpful in
cases of asthma and bronchitis. A folk tradition remedy for children's
colds: it is mixed into a pungent-smelling paste and hung in a bag around
the aficted child's neck.
viii. Antimicrobial: Asafoetida has a broad range of uses in traditional
medicine as an antimicrobial, with well documented uses for treating
chronic bronchitis and whooping cough, as well as reducing atulence.
ix. Balancing the vata and kapha. In Ayurveda, Asafoetida is considered
to be one of the best condiment for balancing the vata dosha. It mitigates
vata and kapha, relieves atulence and colic pain. It is pungent taste and
at the end of digestion. It aggravates pitta, enhances appetite, taste and
digestion. It is easy to digest, Garga, Devisaran (1971).
x. When 'Asafoetida' reached India the physicians, like Carka &
Sushurta carried out a detailed research, and adopted it as a condiment
and medicine, Garga, Devisaran (1971).
xi. Antiatulent : Asafoetida reduces the growth of indigenous
microora in the gut, reducing atulence. Garga, Devisaran (1971) has
stated numerous uses.
In India Asafoetida is used as a medicine for atulence and constipation
by 60% of locals. It is used especially by the merchant especially the

Collected pure oleoresin


Review Article
Vaishnavas and the Jainis, who avoid onion and take Asafoetida in their
culinary. It is used in many vegetarian and lentil dishes to add both avor
and aroma, as well as to reduce atulence. According to Sanjeev Kapoor,
the Master Chef India, the pure 'Heeng' smell is so powerful that you can
smell it from a distance of one kilometer afar from the factory, where it is
being processed. According to his experience one should have a good
control on the quantity to be mixed to a dish.
xii. The emulsion of 'Heeng' is used as an enema. The British physicians
in India regarded it as a valuable stimulant and antispasmodic in hysteria,
atulent, colic infantile convulsion, Dymock & Hooper (18901893,p.102).
xiii. In the Khyber Pakhtoon khowa (NWFP) area of Pakistan:
People hang a small bag of Asafoetida around the neck or tie it around the
arm to keep safe from seasonal, bacterial and viral illnesses.
xiv. In Afghanistan: Hot water extract of the dried gum is taken orally
for hysteria and whooping cough and to treat ulcers. In the Khyber
Pakhtoon khowa (NWFP) area of Pakistan, people hang a small bag of
asafoetida around the neck or tie it around the arm to keep safe from
seasonal, bacterial and viral illnesses, the effectivity of which might have
more to do with repelling potentially infected people rather than the
disease-causing organisms themselves.
xv. InChina : Decoction of the plant is taken orally as a vermifuge .
xvi. In Egypt : Hot water extract of the dried root is taken orally as an
antispasmodic, and as a diuretic, a vermifuge and as an analgesic.
xvii. In Malaysia : Gum is chewed for amenorrhea.
xviii. In Morocco : It is used as anti-epileptic.
xix. In Nepal : Water extract of the resin is taken orally as an
anthelmintic .
xx. In Saudi Arabia : Dried gum is used medicinally for whooping
cough, asthma, and bronchitis.
xxi. In United States : Fluid extract of the resin is taken orally as an
emmenagogue, a stimulating expectorant, an anthelmintic, an
aphrodisiac, and a stimulant to the brain and nerves and claimed to be a
powerful antispasmodic.
xxii. In Iran (Persia) : It is a local stimulant to the mucous
memberane,especially to the alimentary tract, and therefore it is a
remedy of great value as a carminative in atulent colic and useful
addition to laxative medicine there is evidence that the volatile oil is
eliminated through the lungs, therefore Asafetida is excellent for asthma,

bronchitis, whooping cough, etc., (Zargai 1991 quoted by Nadja et.

al., 2006).
Asafoetida was used as a condiment and called the "food of the gods".
Not only this the herb is so highly esteemed as a condiment, it is mixed
with almost all their dishes. In Iran it is sold under the name 'Asafoetida'
in the market packed in 10gm, 100 gm, or 500 gm and 1kg packets. The
cost of Asafoetida is about 40-50 $ per kg. While, in India Present retail
rates are Rs.15/ for 10gm. In Iran it is also used in medicine as an
anthelmintic. as a pill and is recommended dose is 0.5 to 2 gram per
day. In central and southern part of Iran Saplings of the plant are used as
a vegetable.
xiii. In France : The gastronomers rub a little Asafoetida on hot plates
from which they eat beef steaks.
xiv. In Europe: Skilful manipulation has made Asafoetida, a useful
ingredient in ne perfumes.
It is still regarded a valuable medicine in
Europe, It is used to invoke male gods, especially those of a phallic
nature. One myth claims that Asafoetida developed from the semen of a
god of fertility, when it was soaked into the earth.
It is interesting to note that WHO (1999) had not mentioned this
important medicinal plant in its compendium.
Import and re-export of Asafoetida from India.: Asafoetida is
mainly collected from the roots of F. assa-foetida mainly in Iran and
Afghanistan. According to Nadja et. al., (2006) Iran is also main
producer of Astragalus gummifera (Gum tragacanth); Ferula
gummifera (Galbanum); Dorema ammoniacum (Gum ammoniac) and
Ferula Asafoetida (Asafoetida gum or Heeng). The other species used
are; F. persica Willd (known as Sagapenum, Sagbinaj); F.rubricaulis
Boiss; F. sumbul Hook.f (sumbul musk root); F. szowitziana DC
(sagapenum, sagbinaj). The oleo-resin is extracted from these plants in
the countries, where these plants grow in wild.
The earlier records show that the Asafoetida gum has been exported
from Iran since 1820 and in The year 1992 Iran produced F Asafoetida
175,734 tonnes., (Shad 1995 quoted by Nadja et. al., 2006). And, India
is the main importer of 'Asafoetida'. In the year 1990/91 about 1000
tonnes of Asafoetida was imported into India. Present import data is not
available however, it is estimated that 1500-2500 tonnes of Asafoetida is
imported from Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan In the year 2006, 377
tonnes of Ferula assafoetida was exported from Afghanistan apart from
its local consumption, (Ottens et. al., (2006).
India uses about 70% of the material in culinary and in medicine, rest it
is re-exported to about 20 countries. The material is rst graded from
extraneous material, blended with diluents such as starch and our and
then packed and exported.
According to R. Campbell's Asyrian Herbal dated 2500, B.C. a number
of herbal drugs including 'Asafoetida' and other herbal drugs were
imported from India, Thorwald, (1962, p.170). Actually, the Arabian
traders though collected the material from Iran, Afghanistan, etc. but
sold it in Egypt as a product from India.
Banerji (1980,p.42) stated that in Matsya Purana it is stated that the
Heeng' should be kept in the Forts as an emergent material.

Heeng as sold for culinary purpose. In powder form in plastic or tin

container(left) and solid oleo-gum resin sold in plastic bags.

Genuine Asafoetida in India : It is estimated that a very large quantity

of Asafoetida is used in India in the Kitchen and indigenous
pharmaceutical companies. in preparation of proprietary medicines as
stated above. However, F.jaeschkeana Vatke found in Pakistan and
India is a species, the oleo-resin is extracted but is used for adulteration.
Earlier, in Iran and Afghanistan F. assa-foetida Linn; Ferula alliacea
Boiss; F.rubricaulis Boiss, were the original sources of 'Heeng'. From
Iran it was exported to West Pakistan, where it was/is blended with other


Review Article
oleo-resin of other Ferula species, which are cheaper and the material is
adulterated and substituted.
According to Pruthi, (1976,p.13) a number of Heeng' varieties were
considered in India such as; 'Heeng', 'Heeng'ra, 'Bandhani Heeng' and
'Hadda' 'Heera Heeng' based on the species which yielded Heeng and
from the country it was imported such 'Irani Heeng' from Iran or 'Pathani
Heeng' from Afghanistan. Govt. of India tried to control the adulteration
in food vide an Act 1954 with an amendment and amended the
denition for 'Heeng','Heeng'ra, 'Bandhani Heeng' is as follows :
Asafoetida ('Heeng' or 'Heengra') means the oleo-gum resin obtained
from the root and rhizome of Ferula alliaceus. F.rubricaulis, and other
species of Ferula. (F. assafoetida) And, there should not be any
colophony resin, galbonum resin, ammoniaccum or any other foreign
resin. 'Bandhani Heeng' or compounded Asafoetida is composed of one
or more varieties of Ferula sp. Asafoetida ( Pathani (Afghanistan).
'Heeng' is composed of gum Arabic, atta or rice our or both it should
not contain any resin or any other foreign resin coaltar dyes and mineral
Earlier there was no other way to test the Heeng sold in the bazaar except
a physical test as given under.

Quality attribute


Total ash max)


Ash soluble in
HCL % Max










Alcoholic extract %
(90% alcohol


Bandhani 'Heeng'

sumbul Hook.f (sumbul musk root); F. szowitziana DC (sagapenum,

sagbinaj). The above species do not yield actual Asafoetida but other
oleo-gumresin products, and some time mixed with actual Asafoetida to
blend it. The Heeng sold in Indian bazaars as a gum-oleoresin is not
specic F. assafoetida, F.narthex and F. allacea but a mixture of many
Ferula species. As suggested earlier, it is required that the species of
Ferula ,which are used to yield 'Asafoetida' be analysed individually
Table 1. However, Mahendra & Bisht (2012) has described the Chemical
constituents responsible for particular pharmacological activity of Ferula spp.

Pharmacological activity




-pinene; -terpineol;azulene;
diallyl - disulifide;diallyl - sulifide
ferulic-acid; luteolin;umbeliferone
umbeliferone; valeric-acid

Discussion and Conclusion

As we have seen that Assafoetida is used in different countries for

various purposes and not only used as a culinary condiment but also
traditionally used to treat various diseases, including asthma,
gastrointestinal disorders, intestinal parasites, etc. This oleo-gum-resin
has been known to posses antifungal, anti-diabetic, anti-inammatory,
anti-mutagenic and antiviral activities. A wide range of chemical
compounds including sugars, sesquiterpene coumarins and polysulde
have been isolated from oleo-gum-resin of the plant. The recent studies
have shown new promising antiviral sesquiterpene coumarins from it , (
Iranshahy, 2011).
The quality and avor of Asafoetida are affected by a number of factors
such as; i. The species from which it is collected and the part of the plant
from which 'Heeng' is extracted; ii. The season of collection; iii. The
method of process of preparation ; iv. The nature of adulteration, etc.
However, there are other species like; F.galbaniua (Galbanum) which
was earlier known in India as Gandh biroja or Gaoshir and now it is not
available in India. F.rubricaulis, F. persica ( Sagapenum, Sagbinaj); F.

pinene; azulene; -pinene;

ferulic-acid; isopimepinellin; luteolin;
Diallyl - sulifide; ferulic acid;, luteolin;
umbeliferone; vanillin
Diallyl- disulfide; diallyl - sulifide;
ferulic-acid; luteolin; vanillin
pinene; diallyl- disulfide; ferulic
acid; luteolin; vanillin


The present study reveals that there are about 8 Ferula species which are
in trade in the middle east countries as the source of Asafoetida and other
the oleo-gum resin. These species mostly distributed in Iran,
Afghanistan, Turkey, USSR, Tibet and Pakistan. The actual Asafoetida
or Heeng producing species are; F. assa-foetida Linn (F. foetida Regel),
F.narthex and F.alliaceae Boiss, commonly know as the Heeng
producing species.

-pinene; -terpineol; diallyldisulfide; ferulic-acid; isopimepinellin;

luteolin; umbelliferone; vanillin


Starch %

Responsible chemical constituent

Ornithine -Decarboxylase


diallyl - sulifide; umbeliferone
Ferulic-acid; luteolin
Diallyl- disulfide; luteolin
Ferulic-acid; luteolin;vanillin
-pinene; valeric-acid
Diallyl- disulfide
Ferulic-acid; luteolin
Diallyl- disulfide;ferulic-acid
Ferulic-acid; glucuronic-acid
pinene; alpha-terpineol; valeric-acid

Review Article
and in this the scientists of Iran and Afghanistan should collect the well
identied material and the Indian chemists of the National Laboratories
conduct the chemical analysis of the Asafoetida and other parts of the
plant and their essential oil. Presently, in India there are a few Heeng
processing factories, engaged in preparing the Market-Heeng. There is
no information available from Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey about the
present status of wild growing and cultivated Asafoetida and the action
being taken for sustainable production of Ferula species.


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Citation : Shah, N.C and Amir Zare., 2014. Asafoetida (Heeng): The Well Known Medicinal-condiment of India & Iran.
The Scitech Journal. Vol 01 (3): 30-36.