The latin name for Asafetida, or hing in Sanskrit, is Ferula fetida. “Fetida” implies smell. Indeed, the powdered spice is very pungent and almost rotten in smell and can be felt from a distance. It is like someone had passed gas. Ironically, this herb actually relieves gas. It is our spice of choice for the seasons of autumn and winter because during these times we tend to create more gas in our bodies.
Ayurvedically, gas is related to the bodily humour of vata. Vata dosha is made of ether and air. These elements give vata its behavioural patterns. Vata creates space and fills it with air. This might be going on just now in your own digestive tract causing discomfort of some degree, especially if you are a vata type, in other words, if your body type is “airy”, light and delicate. I am referring to now because, at this moment, we have moved into vata season. That means that vata energy is dominant in the nature. Nature makes us feel light and airy. Even the sturdiest and most grounded people might be feeling the effects. Problems like light sleep, irregular digestion and joint pains are very common.
When vata energy goes out of balance it starts easily creating upward movement in the body. Air can get trapped in the gut and create bloating. Anxiety is another good example. The sensation is like something was pushing from below, forcing the breath to move to the upper parts of the lungs and become faster and shallower.
Asafetida is a fabulous spice to counteract the upward moving vata. It has an amazing capacity to restore the correct movement, improve the intestinal transit and help elimination. This herb is a wonderful aid for vata kind of constipation (due to dryness) and by suppressing vata it can relieve all kind of symptoms of vata like pain and other nerve related problems.
As mentioned above, the herb is very strong. It is to be used with care. You can use it in your food: a pinch is enough. In fact, it is highly recommended to be used with beans and lentils. Pulses are astringent in quality and can easily cause gas. Asafetida helps to digest them better and this way they become safe to take, even in autumn and winter.
In India, and also outside, hing is often used by those who avoid onion and garlic in their foods as they are too rajasic, or too stimulating for the mind. Hing gives the food that pungency it might miss without those vegetables. Those who want to go on a sattvic diet might want to introduce this spice in their everyday kitchen. I, personally, use hing together with onion and garlic because I can’t really think a life without them.
I have just prepared a new batch of hinguashtaka powder, a mixture of eight herbs with asafetida. If you have problems with digestion and elimination you can order some from me. It tastes disgusting but it works wonders.