Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida) is the dried sap obtained from the roots of Ferula plants. It is native to Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, and in Classical Times was found in North Africa, leading to its incorporation in medicine practiced by ancient Greece and Rome.
The sap is extracted from the plant. It is dried, and then ground into a yellow powder used for medicinal purposes. It is known by its strong odor, caused by a concentration of sulfur compounds.
Asafoetida is also widely used in Indian cuisine as a spice, where it is known as hing. When cooked, the strong odor changes into a more palatable smell.
According to Healthline*, asafoetida may have the following health benefits:
Good source of antioxidants
Asafoetida has been found to be a good source of antioxidants. These plant compounds help protect your cells against potential damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. As a result, antioxidants may also help protect against chronic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, asafoetida has been shown to contain high amounts of phenolic compounds, such as tannins and flavonoids, which are known for their potent antioxidant effects.
May be good for digestion
One of the most common uses of asafoetida is helping with indigestion. In one 30-day study in 43 adults with moderate to severe indigestion, those taking 250 mg capsules containing asafoetida twice a day reported significant improvements in bloating, digestion, and overall quality of life compared with the placebo group. Asafoetida has also been shown to help boost digestion by increasing the activity of digestive enzymes. Specifically, it may increase the release of bile from the liver, which is needed for the digestion of fat.
May help reduce symptoms of IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal (GI) condition that is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, gas, and constipation, diarrhea, or both. Due to its potential effects on digestion, asafoetida is thought to help reduce symptoms associated with IBS.
Other possible benefits
While studies on asafoetida are quite limited, early research suggests that it may have additional benefits, including:
Antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial effects. Test-tube studies have found asafoetida may help protect against potential pathogens, such as various strains of Streptococcus bacteria.
Help lower blood pressure. Asafoetida may help lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. However, research is very limited and has only been studied in animals.
Anticancer effects. Animal and test-tube studies have shown a potential for asafoetida to help stop the growth and spread of certain cancer cells, including breast and liver cancer.
Protect brain health. Several animal studies have found asafoetida may help protect against memory loss and nerve damage in the brain.
Help ease asthma symptoms. Mice studies have shown asafoetida to have a relaxing effect on airway smooth muscles, which is important in the treatment of asthma. While promising, this effect hasn’t been proven in humans.
Help lower blood sugar levels. One study in rats found 50 mg/kg of asafoetida extract to reduce fasting blood sugar levels. However, this effect hasn’t been studied in humans.
Overall, while animal and test-tube studies suggest many potential benefits of this pungent spice, there’s currently a lack of evidence in humans to support these claims.
It’s also worth noting that these studies use a concentrated form of asafoetida rather than the amounts typically used when cooking. As a result, culinary use of the spice may have minimal effects.
Amalraj A, Gopi S. Biological activities and medicinal properties of Asafoetida: A review. J Tradit Complement Med. 2016;7(3):347-359. Published 2016 Dec 20. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.11.004
Mahendra P, Bisht S. Ferula asafoetida: Traditional uses and pharmacological activity. Pharmacogn Rev. 2012;6(12):141-146. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.99948
McGrande K. : What Is Asafoetida? Benefits, Side Effects, and Uses. Healthline. 3 April 2020. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/asafoetida-benefits.
Zhang YJ, Gan RY, Li S, Zhou Y, Li AN, Xu DP, Li HB. Antioxidant Phytochemicals for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases. Molecules. 2015 Nov 27;20(12):21138-56. doi: 10.3390/molecules201219753. PMID: 26633317; PMCID: PMC6331972.
* Healthline content has been edited for brevity. For the full description, including sources, please visit: What Is Asafoetida? Benefits, Side Effects, and Uses on Healthline.com. Please read our Disclaimer for further information on the potential health benefits mentioned here.