Herb of the Month – Asafoetida
I love, love, love this spice. If you have a bloated, puffy belly, and intestinal gas that’s either trapped, or moving out but pretty smelly, our herb of the month is going to be your best friend.
It’s called Hing, and you need to know about it! In Europe it’s a little more commonly called Asafoetida.
If you’ve ever smelled it, you’ll never forget. Whew! So strong. But that’s one good sign of a medicinal plant. It just so happens this one smells like garlic & onions.
It’s one of my #1 recommendations for enhancing digestion when the problem is the direction of Vata-Kapha. So that means gas, bloating, spastic intestines, ama, paracytes. But it’s fairly heating, so best to choose something else for Pitta digestive problems or a person who has other signs of heat. It’s super anti-spasmodic, so can be great for moms to ingest regularly when your baby has colic. And that makes it really helpful in another condition that Vata and Kapha are collectively driving a problem associated with spasms: asthma.
For many of us, our first exposure to hing is in yoga cookbooks, as a substitute to achieve a garlic-and-onions-flavor, because yoga recommends against using garlic and onions for energetic reasons. (One reason for yoga’s no-garlic-and-onions policy is because they’re not sattvic, so they imbalance the mind. Note that while Ayurveda accepts the sattvic, it doesn’t completely cross garlic and onions off the list. It depends on we’re trying to achieve.)
So because hing is sattvic (balancing to the mind), it can be helpful in depression, and also conditions of Vata in the mind & nervous system like anxiety, that become exaggerated when gas accumulates in the colon.
I’ve used hing effectively in clinical practice to eliminate paracytes, and it’s generally a good herb to take along and consume daily when you travel.
Notice the affinity to treat things in the pelvis? Your next thought should be, “What else in the pelvic bowl might hing help with?” We soon discover that hing is very useful when the menstruation is delayed or otherwise affected by Vata, for example when there are cramps (remember, the anti-spasmodic effect will reduce cramps). If the condition is caused by too much cold quality, with Vata and Kapha involvement, think about hing.
Hing reduces Vata-Kapha conditions, and is pretty heating.
Personally, in my kitchen I make sure to add in a pinch of hing without fail whenever I would add in onions. I roast it with the ghee or oil at the start of soups, sauces, curries, mexican dishes & cassaroles.
Hing is a gummy resin secreted by the plant that’s used. Think about this: first the plant has to mature for at least 4 years, then there’s a process that takes at least a month to wait for the resin to ooze to be collected, it’s sliced a bit so the saps leak out, much like your would do to harvest maple syrup, or a rubber tree. So we can appreciate the care and time it takes to get this magic medicine to us.
So far, I’ve never seen it available, to consumers, in its pure form here (or in India for that matter). You can get it in your local Indian shop, Turkish market, etc. But there or even the stuff that’s sold “pure” on the internet is often mixed with wheat, gum arabic, etc, probably to keep it in a powdered state. So for extreme celiacs or wheat sensitivities, be mindful. But because it greatly enhances digestability (which is the reason most people can’t digest gluten),, and since it’s used in small amounts, usually just a pinch in a soup or curry, many people with mild celiac conditions can handle the small amounts. The herb formulas I provide clients at Atma Ayurveda are a better quality that what’s available to the public.