From the Chairman’s Desk
HING (ASAFOETIDA) – THE FOOD OF THE GODS
ASAFOETIDA was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran and Afghanistan. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India. It emerged into Europe from an expedition of Alexander the Great, who, after returning from a trip to north eastern ancient Persia, thought they had found a plant almost identical to the famed silphium of Cyrene in North Africa—though less tasty. Discords, in the first century, wrote, "the Cyrenaic kind, even if one just tastes it, at once arouses a humour throughout the body and has a very healthy aroma, so that it is not noticed on the breath, or only a little; but the Median [Iranian] is weaker in power and has a nastier smell." Nevertheless, it could be substituted for silphium in cooking, which was fortunate, because a few decades after Discords' time, the true silphium of Cyrene became extinct, and asafoetida became more popular amongst physicians, as well as cooks.
The Food of the GODS or the Devil’s Dung is the name given to a herb cultivated in one of the very unique and sacredly typical environment across the globe. RARE and SACRED are the words for the ASAFOETIDA as it takes the right temperature, the right soil, the right atmosphere, the right enrichment and the right knowledge to grow the GODS food and at the end the right process to cultivate it. – THE ASAFOETIDA is called the food of the GODS because of its unique and rare medicinal usage. It is so much potent that one needs to use only 10 mg of ASOFEDITDA, which is more effective and stronger than a 500 mg medicine tablet.
It takes high efforts to reach the site where it is cultivated. You can’t drive a vehicle to reach. It is extremely rocky, dried and there’s no road. The best off-roads fail in this terrain. After a tracking of around 35 kms you reach to the sacred land of cultivation of Asafoetida. Asafoetida is the dried aromatic gum-resin exuded from the living rhizome, rootstock or taproot of varied plant species of genus Ferula. Asafoetida is the English name for the dried late (gum oleoresin) excluded from the rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula, a perennial herb that grows 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) tall. It is part of the celery family Apiaceae. Asafoetida is thought to be in the same genus as silphium, a plant now believed to be extinct, and was used as a cheaper substitute for that historically important herb. The species is native to the deserts of Iran, Tajikistan and mountains of Afghanistan, but is mainly cultivated in nearby India.
Asafoetida – The Plant – Crown of Kings and Queens
The plant cannot be grown elsewhere than the origin. Leafy Bushes wide spread gives a glimpse of grass when seen from distant. It adds to the beauty of the scenery of dry white Rocky Mountains of Afghanistan making it a soothing landscape to watch. The plant takes a width of 0.7 to 1 mtr and length of about 1.5 mtr when fully grown. The base is called the Female and the Yellow Flower is the Male. The female is dark green in color with fine light green edges like an embryo while the male is light yellow.
It takes exactly 1year for the plant to be fully grown. It needs a specific environment and soil conditions to grow. Asafoetida smell starts when the male starts growing. At first the female grows and create the stability base for the male to stand tall. The Male of Asafoetida takes the charge and stands with style in the most sacred places in the world it is mesmerizing to watch the site one keeps wandering how this beautiful plant can grow in such a difficult terrain.
ASAFOETIDA - The Cultivation
After the plant takes the shape and becomes mature with the stem strong and thick, it is the time to cut the stem. The stem is cut near the bottom part towards the root by metal tool called “CHHURA”(Knife). The cut is horizontal and with utmost cleaned sand around the plant. The stem releases milk which erupts from the root out of pressure. The milk is thus collected with the help of Knife and stored in a temporary small metalvessel Tumbler - Capacity 2 Ltrs. The entire process is traditional and highly manual. Even today it is the same process, the same toolsKnife and Tumbler. When you reach the site it feels the world has not advanced, something like the time well. No mobile network, no wifi, no vehicles, no site of villages or people, to our surprise there are no animals either.
The milk comes in slow motion and there’s no space to slide it so it is to be collected in a proper way with ensuring zero touch and only with the help of Knife. After the milk stops coming out from the cut another cut is done lower to the existing cut. The sand is dug again and area is cleaned. You need lot of patience to do this activity. Slowly as the milk surfaces. The same activity is repeated for 12 to 15 times till the milk finally stops.
The milk thus collected with precision is than carried in Tumbler. It is a highly complex job. Like the doctor or a scientist waiting for the result. Once the Tumbler is full it is than transferred to the storage containers called Kenny (Capacity of 20 Ltrs). Again, you have to walk to the storage site every time with Tumbler. Just imagine, it took 6 hours for the bucket to be half full than again walking to the container site. Yes the energy is drained with sun absorbing it. The patience is tested at its best. For daily workers it’s a routine but for learners it is a test.
Please note it is not in abundance as the site is rare and also, the plants are limited, so each drop of milk counts. The storage container site is worthy to watch and scientific. The milk came from the roots that was below the land level, so to keep ASAFOETIDA stable it is to be stored naturally. The site is dug by 1 mtr depth and the milk thus collected is stored in thick plastic Kenny placed in depth of 1 mtr. Once filled the containers are covered with the same land soil again till there’s a supply signal. The storage site location is also scientifically checked and identified. One needs to ensure that the milk doesn’t dry enough in the storage containers so they are covered with soil and kept underground away from the sunlight.
After the process the root is again covered with soil and there’s a wait till it emerges back and grows to the same length. The roots are the natural seeds of the plant. They regrow and the cycle is repeated. Fascinating isn’t it!
After the process is completed of extracting ASAFOETIDA Gel or milk from the plant. The cans are thus transferred by labours to the storage house. Just imagine 22 ltrs of 2 cans and a walk of more than 30 kms.
The milk thus collected is processed through machines to make it clean and allowed to dry. Once the process is done they are stored in solid forms called Lumps Or RAS.
1 KG LUMP (RAS) is INR9000/- (USD 124/-) approximately on the market. People use only 10 – 20 mg of powder which fills your cuisine with Aroma and ads the taste.
ASAFOETIDA – The Usage and Benefits
Asafoetida is used for breathing problems including ongoing chronic bronchitis, H1N1 “swine flu” and asthma. It is also used for digestion problems including intestinal gas, upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and irritable colon. Other uses include treatment of “whooping cough” (pertussis), croup and hoarse throat.
Some people use asafoetida for hysteria, insanity, convulsions and as a nerve stimulant for ongoing mental and physical fatigue with depression(neurasthenia). Women sometimes use asafoetida to restart their menstrual periods after menstruation has stopped for some reason. Asafoetida is sometimes directly on skin for corns and calluses. In manufacturing, asafoetida is used as a fragrance in cosmetics and as a flavouring ingredient in foods and beverages. Asafoetida is also used in products meant to repel dogs, cats and wildlife.