What Is Asafetida: Asafetida Plant Information And Growing Tips

What Is Asafetida: Asafetida Plant Information And Growing Tips

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Stinky herb or beneficial medicinal? Asafetida has historic uses botanically as a digestive, vegetable and flavor enhancer. It has a rich history in Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cuisine. Many people find the odor offensive, even stomach turning, but knowing how to use this interesting plant can add authenticity to your Indian menus while keeping your tummy in line. Some tips on how to grow Asafetida follow.

What is Asafetida?

Asafetida (Ferula foetida) has been cultivated and harvested for centuries. What is Asafetida? This same plant is referred to both as “Food of the Gods” and “Devil’s Dung,” making it confusing to the layperson. Should you eat it? Should you pull it up and discard it? That all depends upon how you wish to use the plant and what traditions your culinary palate can handle. Either way, the perennial herb bears attractive curly, lacy foliage and interesting flowering umbels that can enhance the garden in USDA zones 3 to 8.

Asafetida is native in Afghanistan and into eastern Persia, now Iran. Among the many Asafetida uses are culinary and medicinal – as a brain stimulant, laxative and effective respiratory medicine. The plant itself occurs in sandy, well-drained soils and was initially spotted growing by Western botanists in the Aral Desert, although Asafetida plant cultivation was known to take place as far back as the 12th century.

In appearance, Asafetida is an herbaceous plant that can grow 6 to 10 feet in height. It has numerous sheathed petioles and parsley-like foliage. The flower is also similar to those in the parsley family. Large umbels of tiny pale green yellow blooms become flat oval fruits. The plant takes years to flower but is monocarpic, meaning it dies after flowering.

Asafetida Plant Information

The wide range of Asafetida uses indicates that the often pungent and unpleasant odor has not historically been an issue. Leaves and young shoots are cooked like a vegetable and considered a delicacy. The starchy root is also used to make a porridge. Apparently, boiling the plant helps remove the stench and makes the herb more palatable.

Gum resin obtained from the plant is sold as a garlic substitute, although the flavor and odor may be more pungent than some users might like. Along with medicinal properties, one of the most intriguing pieces of Asafetida plant information is its use as a secret ingredient in Worcester sauce – aka Worcestershire sauce. It is still a common flavoring and digestive aid in Afghani and Indian cookery.

How to Grow Asafetida

If you wish to undertake your own Asafetida plant cultivation, you first need to obtain some viable seed. The plant is tolerant of a wide range of soil consistencies as well as pH, but well-draining medium is a must.

Asafetida requires full sun. Sow seeds in fall or early spring directly into prepared beds. Germination is improved by exposure to cold, moist conditions. Sow seeds on the surface of the soil with a lightly tamped layer of sand over them. Space seeds 2 feet apart and keep moderately moist until germination. Thereafter, water when soil is dry to the touch several inches down.

Plants are generally self-sufficient after they grow several feet high but some may require staking. In some regions, they can be self-sowing, so removing the flower heads before they go to seed may be necessary unless you want a field of this herb. Harvest as a vegetable when shoots and leaves are young and tender.

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Hing-ing on history: Amid news that India will grow Ferula Asafoetida on home soil, retracing the spice's story

Alexander's army came across the Ferula Asafoetida plant while crossing over the Hindu Kush mountains into India, and the Hindu Kush — Afghanistan and Iran — has been the cradle of this remarkable spice, known as 'hing' in Hindi.

History has countless ‘what if’ moments, but none comes close (in view of this week’s news about the growing of Ferula Asafoetida in Himachal Pradesh) to what might have happened if asafoetida — hing, in Hindi — grew in India. It could well have, seeing that the army of Alexander the Great even carried a plant with them when they came to India in the 4th century BCE. For Alexander’s army, it was a case of mistaken identity: they thought it was silphium, a rare plant that was used to tenderise meat. The army came across it while crossing over the Hindu Kush mountains into India and the Hindu Kush — Afghanistan and Iran — has been the cradle of this remarkable spice that is full of sulphur compounds (as are onions and garlic, which it replaces in our vegetarian cuisines).

History is usually written through the prism of political conquests — wars fought, battles won, forts breached, kings overthrown. No history writer worth their salt would have thought of mentioning the plant that Alexander’s army had painstakingly carried with them. Or whether it had been flung away in impatience, when it was found not to be the umbelliferous plant that they thought it was. Had they cast it away in appropriately dry, sandy soil at a certain elevation — 4,000 metres above sea level would have worked just fine — that receives around 200 mm precipitation (rain and snow) a year, why, who knows! India might just have been one of the principal growers of this all-important spice and we would not have had to fritter away our foreign exchange on importing what was growing on our hillsides.

Ferula is the family name (genus) of a few related species. The one that everybody’s talking about currently is Ferula asafoetida others are Ferula alliacea, Ferula rubricaulis, Ferula narthex and Ferula foetida. All of them require similar growing conditions all of them have fat, carrot-shaped roots from where the thick white sap drips slowly, to be collected periodically, and it is tempting for growers to ramp up the weight of the not inexpensive asafoetida with a substitute that looks similar.

There is feverish excitement in the country because of the news that asafoetida is now being grown in Himachal Pradesh, but it seems to me that we’re jumping the gun. First of all, the plant takes 4-5 years to grow. It is only after that, that the roots yield their precious sap. As we have little know-how or even the tools of the trade — the little trowel-like cutters to scrape away the fresh sap — it seems a trifle hasty to begin celebrating saving our foreign exchange on importing asafoetida.

There is terroir to be taken into account: How will our newest trophy grow on our soil, so to speak? Will it be a repetition of the Iran-Afghanistan crops, where the Iranian hing is lighter and has more citrus notes than the feral Afghanistan crop? Even within Afghanistan, Kandhari asafoetida is the most highly prized while the Herati crop is considered a very distant second quality, even below the Iranian variety that is only used in spice mixes in India, and seldom sold on its own. Kandahar and Herat have mountains near them where the precious crop is grown it is the nearest mandi that gives the crop its name. Our Himachal crop just might turn out to be a damp squib because of factors that nobody has anticipated. The final product might just turn out to have a markedly different flavour from its Afghani counterpart, and may not be accepted by the world’s largest market.

Even more than that, it is, in the opinion of Sanjay Bhatia of Chetan Das Lachhman Das, one of the few importers of asafoetida into India, entirely premature to celebrate the sowing of seeds of a particular spice in the country. “It takes four to five years for the plants to grow and mature enough to release its precious sap. Also, this is merely a government initiative — one of many. The hype is entirely uncalled for.” According to Bhatia, who is one of only 22 asafoetida importers in the entire country – that is how small the world-wide crop is — we should wait to erupt with joy if the plants have taken root and are growing successfully, and when the yield is copious. One kg per plant per annum is considered the norm. Much less than that and it makes it too labour intensive for the grower, as the crop grows at high altitudes, far away from human habitation and collecting the sap (asafoetida) is nowhere as easy as harvesting, say, rice or barley!

Bhatia points out that the key will be the flavour of the Himachal crop, a few years from now. That will be the time to celebrate, if our crop can stand up to the best of the Kandahar yield, considered by all in the trade as the gold standard of this particular spice. Terroir is the leading factor for the flavour of any agricultural product and the flavour profile of the country’s first asafoetida crop will be keenly awaited. There is many a slip twixt cup and lip: a too-weak flavour will not be accepted by the world’s largest market for this particular spice. Flowery or citrusy notes will not be acceptable by the Indian market either, and then it will be back to Afghanistan for their crop.

Before that day, around five years down the line, let us look at a few facts:

• India does not grow asafoetida, but processes it.

• By processing is meant making it suitable as a cooking ingredient.

• One processes asafoetida by stabilising a resin that feels like plasticine but will give you a headache with its smell.

• Some towns across the country have gained fame in processing the spice by adding flour to it. Hathras in Uttar Pradesh is just one example.

• Dealers keep several ‘grades’ of the spice, which means various percentages of flour have been added to the base resin to sober it down.

• In the north of the country, wheat flour is the stabilising agent in the south, rice flour is used.

• Celiacs and those with gluten intolerance can use brands such as LG whose largest market is in the South, and which are thus stabilised with rice flour.

Shradh cooking (following the death of a person) has the strictest rules only ingredients that are indigenous (and date back to ancient times) may be used. Asafoetida is prohibited!

• Asafoetida is used by almost all vegetarian communities. Kashmiri Pandits use it too, in place of onions and garlic, but it is thought to impart umami to the cuisine.

Marryam H Reshii has been writing on food and lifestyle for the last 30 years. Follow her work on her website, and on Twitter.

Updated Date: October 26, 2020 11:20:02 IST

India Attempts to Grow Its Favourite Smelly Spice — Asafetida

Asafetida is widely used in vegetarian Indian curries as a substitute for garlic and onions.

The smelly, acrid flavour in some Indian dishes is due to a unique spice — Asafetida — that is consumed aplenty in the country, but is not produced there.

Asafetida or “hing,” as it is commonly referred to, is a spice used across dishes, especially vegetarian ones, in India. Contrary to popular belief, however, the spice is not grown in India.

Currently, India imports about 1,200 tons of raw Asafetida worth $100 million from Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

However, things are about to change.

Indian scientists have planted about 800 saplings of the plant in Lahaul and Spiti, one of the coldest regions in the Himalayan mountains range. The first batch was planted in Kwaring village in Lahaul.

The Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) jointly began experimenting with Asafetida in 2018. The joint venture was able to procure quality seeds for the first time in 2018 from Iran.

“Apart from Himachal Pradesh, a northern Indian state, we think the climate in Uttarakhand and Ladakh would be conducive for growing Asafetida,” said Ashok Kumar, a scientist with CSIR-IHBT.

The institute will be planting Asafetida in the Kinnaur and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh.

Asafetida was one of the main industries in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh when India was under the British rule. However, it was only processed there and not cultivated.

As far as the Indian cuisine is concerned, Asafetida is used as an alternative to ginger and onion for its smell and taste. It also reduces the bloating sensation when one eats heavy foods like cabbage or lentils.

Indian cuisine makes use of a variety of spices. Photo: Henry Dick/Unsplash

The spice used in the cuisine is made from the sap of the Asafetida plant. It is dried and powdered after which wheat powder is added make compounded “hing.”

While the spice is widely added Indian curries, it was also used by the Romans in their cuisine, mainly to marinate meat.

“The Romans came via the Hind Kush mountain range where they first found this,” said Marryam H Reshii, an independent food writer. “First, they thought it was Silphium. Later, they realized it was something very different. Silphium is a medicinal plant often used as a seasoning.”

However, there was no mention of its use by the Romans after the 16th century. Reshii said this spice is also used as an insecticide in Western European countries.

Historically, it is believed that Asafetida was brought to India as early as 600 BC. It could not be grown in the country as the climate was not conducive for cultivation. Asafetida requires a cold climate to grow but the dry soil, humid coastal areas and hot climate in most parts of India made it impossible to cultivate.

“Since Asafetida is a cold-climate crop, the seeds went dormant in our climate. They had to be regenerated for them to germinate,” said Vikramaditya Pandey, assistant director-general, Horticulture Sciences, at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Pandey and his team, at the ICAR, tested the seeds for bugs and pests.

“One of the biggest challenges for us was to break the dormancy and get the seed to germinate. In the lab, the seeds took close to a month to germinate,” said Kumar.

Pandey believes the farmers in the area will play an important role once the plant grows and its cultivation is scaled up. This would take time as the seeds have to be tested to ascertain their growth capability.

One of the major hurdles for the researchers and farmers will the origin place of the seeds. The seeds, originating in Iran, and currently being used, have been procured from the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources.

This could be a pain point as Iranian Asafetida is not accepted in India as much as the one imported from Afghanistan.

“Iranian Asafetida is fruity while the Afghanistan Asafetida is pungent. The former is not used a lot in India because of its flavor. If the flavor of the Asafetida being grown here is Iranian, we might have to go back to the kind being imported from Afghanistan,” said Reshii.

“We also have to consider whether Asafetida will actually grow here. In Uzbekistan or Afghanistan, it grows in uninhabited places. The flavor it produces is also important. All these things need to be assessed before we celebrate,” she said.

The traders of Asafetida also agree with Reshii’s predictions.

“We will have to compare the price of the homegrown Asafetida with the imported one. The quality, too, has to also be assessed before buying it,” said Chandrasekhar, wholesale trader of Asafetida, who runs Highland Traders in Bengaluru

Most wholesalers such as Chandrasekhar import this spice from Kabul in Afghanistan. Chandrasekhar said whether this project would benefit traders like him or not can be assessed only after the plant matures in five years.

Reshii also feels that even if the plant grows, finding trained labor to collect the sap would be difficult.

“Collecting the sap cannot be done by just anyone. Laborers need to be trained to do it. Do we have people with that kind of expertise?” said Reshii.

Apart from being used as a condiment, Asafetida also has medicinal properties and is prescribed by Ayurveda doctors.

“A stomach ache can be cured in children by making a paste with Asafetida and rubbing it on the tummy,” said Dr. J S Tripathi, professor of Ayurveda at the Banaras Hindu University.

For doctors like Tripathi, the success of this experiment would mean that the spice would be easily accessible for treatment. For them, however, the country of origin of the seeds doesn’t matter.

“All we want is unadulterated Asafetida. If the cultivation becomes a success, it will help us,” Tripathi said. “If Asafetida is unadulterated, a little can cure a lot of digestion-related problems.”

(Edited by Uttaran Das Gupta and Gaurab Dasgupta)

Best Natural and Organic Fertilizers for Curry Leaf Plant:

Homemade fertilizers are good for curry leaf plant, but they are not enough by themselves. You should apply at least one of the liquid fertilizer (for quick drink of nutrients) and one of the granular/solid fertilizer (for long term feeding) from the list below for optimum growth of the curry leaf plant.

Fish Emulsion and Fish fertilizer

Why: Curry leaf plant is mainly harvested for its leaves. To grow lush green leaves, curry leaf plant needs more amount of Nitrogen. Fish emulsion is an organic, liquid fertilizer which has high Nitrogen value but also contains some amount of Phosphorus and Potassium. Most of the fish emulsion fertilizers like Alaska Fish fertilizer has a nutrition value of 5-1-1. Fish fertilizers also contain many trace minerals that are beneficial to most of the plants in any garden. Liquid fertilizers like the Fish emulsion are readily available for the plants to be absorbed and thus provides quicker results than granular fertilizers.

How to Apply:
– Follow the direction on the product label.
– If no clear direction provided, mix 2 tablespoons of the product with 1 gallon of water.
– Pour at the base of the curry leaf plant.
– It can be used as a foliar application -Spray on top and bottom of the leaves.
– Make sure to apply outside as the Fish products smell pretty bad.
– Apply every other week skip when any additional fertilizer is applied in the last 4-6 days.

Seaweed Fertilizer

Why: If you want to make your curry leaf plant grow faster, apply seaweed fertilizer every 15 days. Seaweed or Kelp fertilizers contain more than 60 trace minerals from the ocean. Not only that, but they are also valuable as a growth stimulant because of the presence of multiple growth hormones. These fertilizers are available in liquid as well as in powder forms.

Seaweed is a plant-based, organic fertilizer option for the vegetarian or vegan growers who do not want to apply any animal-based fertilizers to their curry leaf plants.

To fertilize my curry leaf plant, I use Neptune’s Harvest Seaweed and Fish fertilizer. It not only has growth stimulants from Seaweed but has the goodness of fish fertilizer as well. Best of both worlds! This can be used for fertilizing seedlings as well as fertilizing tomatoes growing in the garden.

How to Apply:
– Follow the direction on the product label.
– If no clear direction provided, mix 2 tablespoons of the product with 1 gallon of water.
– Pour at the base of the curry leaf plant.
– It can be used as a foliar application -Spray on top and bottom of the leaves.
– Apply every other week skip when any additional fertilizer is applied in the last 4-6 days.

Blood Meal

Why: Blood meal has about 10 to 12% of Nitrogen, which helps curry leaf plants grow more leaves. Blood meal takes a few weeks to break down. So, it is best to supplement it with liquid fertilizers to provide both long term nourishment and quickly accessible nutrients for the optimum growth of the curry leaf plant.

How to Apply:
– In early spring, add 1 tablespoon of blood meal to the potting soil (for 14” diameter pot) add proportionately more for a larger pot.
– Mix the top layer of soil gently, without damaging the roots.
– Water thoroughly.

Cow Manure:

Why: While providing key nutrients to the Curry leaf plant, cow manure also helps improve the soil structure. It makes the compact and heavy clay soil loose for easier root penetration. Plus, it also helps in retaining water in the potting soil. Make sure the cow manure is properly ‘baked’ or dehydrated, otherwise it can burn the curry leaf plant.

How to Apply:
– Add a trowel full of manure to the potting soil (for 14” diameter pot) add proportionately more for a larger pot.
– Mix the top layer of soil gently, without damaging the roots.
– Water thoroughly. It can be reapplied mid-season.
– Do not apply to a curry leaf plant that is less than 1 year old- it can burn the plant.

Asafoetida is an herbaceous plant

Asafoetida is an herbaceous plant. It grow 6 to 10 feet in height.It has numerous sheathed petioles and parsley like foliage.The flower is also similar to those in the parsley family. Large umbels of tiny pale green yellow blooms become flat oval fruits. The plant takes years to flower but is monocarpic meaing it dies after flowering..The wide range of Asafoetida uses indictes that the often pungent and unpleasant odor. Seems like leaves and young shoots are cook like a vegetable and consider a delicacy. The starchy root is also use to make a porridge. Apparently boiling the plant helps remove the stench and makes the herb more palatable.

The truth is that some people would prefer to shoot deer rather than find nonviolent means of keeping them at bay. Realistically, this will not solve the problem at all, and it can also be dangerous if you live around other people in a residential area.

The best way to keep deer away from your tomato plants, and your garden in general, is to look at using nonviolent means of helping them keep their distance.

Here are some good options to seriously consider:

1 – Use a Commercial Spray

The good news is that you can buy deer repellent sprays from hardware and gardening stores. Like other animals, deer have a sensitive sense of smell. They are prey animals, so deer need to have a keen sense of smell so they can detect possible danger early and move away.

There are deer repellent sprays that are not friendly to deer. Deer are also very sensitive to other strong smells, such as rotten eggs, so you might want to experiment a little with hanging bags of smelly substances near your tomatoes.

Otherwise, just invest in an official deer repellent spray.

2 – Use a Homemade Spray

If you don’t have access to commercial sprays, you can actually make your own very effective deer repellent.

If you happen to have some hot sauce in the pantry, mix it with 16 parts of water in a spray bottle. Then go outside and liberally spray your tomato plants and other plants with this substance.

The deer will not like the smell and leave your vegetables alone. You just have to remember to spray the plants again after it rains.

3 – Use Soap

You can also use soap to keep deer away. The smell will be strong enough to deter them from getting close.

The best way to do this is to put the soap in nylon stockings and then tie them around your plants.

Interestingly, deer don’t like our human smell either. You can actually put cuttings of human hair into the same nylon stockings and hang them like talismans around your tomato plants too.

This will work just as effectively if you can bear the thought of using hair! In fact, why not experiment with other strong smells too?

4 – Install a Fence

One of the most effective things you can do to keep deer away is to install a fence. This provides an effective barrier that allows you to control deer movement.

Just bear in mind that any fence you do install will need to be at least 8 feet high so that the deer can’t jump over it.

An electric fence is a good idea because it will provide a mild electric shock that the deer won’t like at all. Eventually, they will learn not to go near the tomatoes and other vegetables to avoid this mild electric shock and pain.

Just remember that you only need to have the electric fence active at night, because this is the time when deer are looking for food.

However, an electric fence is not for everyone. In this case, a fence that is composed of either chain links or heavy gauge wire will be just as effective.

Some people install a fence around all of the vegetables in the patch, but it can get expensive. For this reason, it might be best to just install separate fencing around each tomato plant.

Ideally, you can install narrow gauge wire fencing around each plant so that it forms a cage. This will allow you to keep an eye on the plant, but will prevent any deer from poking a head through to get at the fruit.

5 – Lay Down the Wire

Like other animals, deer have great senses, and you can use this to your advantage when it comes to keeping them away from your tomatoes and other plants.

If you have plenty of fencing wire, you can actually lay it flat on the ground around your garden. The deer don’t like the feel of wire under their hooves and will avoid it where possible. This is a bit like dogs not liking the smooth feel of tiles under their paws.

This method is a great way to keep deer away without much fuss or investment, and does so without resorting to electrified fences.

6 – Ultrasonics

Finally, you can also purchase ultrasonic products that are guaranteed to keep deer and other animals at bay. These products emit a high frequency sound that only deer and other sensitive animals can hear.

This will annoy them and keep them away.

Best Quality Asafoetida |Which Countries are Producing Asafoetida?

Best Quality Asafoetida is good in price. The herb is a perennial plant. It is also an herb sap, which is caused by blurring the root or the bottom of the stem or cutting off the stem of the anguspinal herb. Gum is added to the stem cells. Which squeezes the shell of the stem. It leaves the plant through a cut and a small cracks. This sap is removed from the collar of the plant. Usually cutting it in parallel with the stem. And during the summer and spring this gum is obtained.

And it’s available in two ways. One type that is called a tear. Very clean and high quality. And is free of dirt and quality. Its outer color is reddish yellow and sometimes golden. In terms of size, it is hazelnut or in chickpea dimensions. The color of the section is white first. Which in the vicinity of the air rapidly decomposes and darkens over time. And if it is cut it will be seen in the golden and yellow layers. That is very beautiful.

And another type that’s on the market. The mass is said to be collected with impunity. And mixed with dirt and shavings and leaves. And fewer quality. Best Quality Asafoetida is neede for herbal cure. Use Best Quality Asafoetida at home made foods.

Watch the video: Asafoetida Powder Health Benefits