By: Naveed Bhat

NaveedThe scientific name of asafoetida (heeng) is a Ferula assafoetida and is a monoecious, herbaceous & perennial plant of the family Apiaceae. It is a dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the rhizome or tap root of Ferula which is a perennial herb that grows 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) tall. It is also known as devil's dung, ascent, food of the gods, jowani badian, stinking gum, hing, hengu, ingu, kayam, and ting. In Kashmiri, it is called as Yang & Sap, in Tamil (Perungaayam) and inUrdu,Punjabi, Hindi as Hing.

The two main varieties of asafoetida are Hing Kabuli Sufaid (Milky White Asafoetida) and Hing Lal (Red Asafoetida). Even though most of the world’s production of asafoetida comes from the Middle Eastern regions of Iran and Afghanistan, India is the major consumer of this spice.

The resin-like gum comes from the dried sap extracted from the stem and roots and is used as a spice. The resin is greyish-white when fresh, but dries to a dark amber color. Today, the most commonly available form is compounded asafoetida, a fine powder containing 30% asafoetida resin, along with starch of rice flour and gum arabic.

Process of cultivation

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 keeps moderately moist until germination. Thereafter, water when the 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.

Special Usages of Asafoetida:

1. As spices

This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment, and in pickling. It typically works as a flavor enhancer and used along with turmeric, is a standard component of Indian cuisine, particularly in lentil curries such as dal, as well as in numerous vegetable dishes.

2. As Medicine

Due to its functional properties, it possesses wonderful medicinal properties as antiflatulent and is considered a digestive. It reduces flatulence and also used for a remedy for asthma and bronchitis. In Ancient India, Rishi munis and vaids were also healers as they knew about the medicinal properties of all herbs and spices. They preferred ayurvedic medicines and remedies to cure many everyday health issues.

Hing also has many medicinal properties that are worth mentioning. You may have heard your grandmothers suggest that Heeng tadka is a must to your dals at night as it helps aid digestion. In many parts of the world like Afganistan, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia it is taken to relieve symptoms of whooping cough, asthma, and ulcer.

Status of Asafoetida

There is no such reliable information on the area under Asafoetida and the quantity produced. Central Asia is also a source of asafoetida but Afghanistan and Iran are the major producers in this region. Asafoetida is native to central Asia, eastern Iran to Afghanistan, where it grows from 600 to 1200 m above the sea level. Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal is also an emerging state, where there is a huge scope of cultivating this spice to large extent.

India as loyal Consumer of this spice

Despite not being a producer of Asafoetida (Hing), India consumes 40% of World’s total production each year. So far Hing is produced only in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Baluchistan, Iran, and Iraq. India imports near about 1000-1200 MT of asafoetida annually. During 2015-16, India imported 1199 MT of asafoetida valued at Rs 527.42 crores. After processing the raw product, India exported 885 MT of asafoetida valued at Rs 46.27 crores during the same period.

Role of Asafoetida in crop protection technique:

The role of Asafoetida in crop protection technique came into limelight when a farmer namely Mr. K. Chellamuthu, at Kodumudi village, Erode, Tamil Nadu, came under a lot of criticism from experts when he developed a herbal spray for control of eriophyid mite in coconut trees. He started experimenting asafoetida’s effect on paddy, sesame seeds, groundnut, tomato, brinjal, and other crops and found that the yield increased and the plants were healthy. Golden opportunity for budding Agri-prenuers to take up this spice at large scale Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have the same cold desert type of climatic conditions that are found in countries as Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey and are necessary for its cultivation. India consumes around 40 percent of total production of asafoetida worldwide as these provide an edge and scope of farming of this spice and tap the Indian market by the internal import burden from the various foreign countries.
Various experiments and research revealed that this spice, if cultivated under technical specification would change the economy of hill states as one kg of pure asafoetida can fetch around Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 in the market. In addition, the production of asafoetida in the country would also reduce the dependence on other countries. Asafoetida as international value crop has a high demand in the pharmaceutical sector. Its farming would definitely improve the economy of farmers as the crop could be grown amidst other horticultural crops.

The Author is Chief Agri-Business Expert (Technical) Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, New Delhi