Monday, January 14, 2013

Maybe it’s time for asafeotida bags

By Meg Hibbert

Maybe it’s time to break out the asafeotida bags to ward off the flu.

Doctors, hospitals and medical personnel all over – especially in Virginia – are saying this week that the flu epidemic right now is huge. The word is that local hospitals are getting overloaded with flu cases. Staff on Tuesday said Richfield Retirement Center’s residents in the Recovery and Care Center are quarantined to their rooms and residential floors, instead of being allowed to go to the cafeteria.

Maybe we should all try wearing asafetida bags.

Unless you grew up in the 1940s, 1950s and were raised in the rural South, you might not ever have heard of asafetida or asafoetida, which as a kid, I thought was probably spelled assafettidy.

When I was little, I remember a few country kids in Tifton, Ga., coming to school with little cloth bags of onion-smelling gunky stuff on string around their necks. Asafetida was supposed either supposed to cure you of colds and other sickness, or to keep germs away.

It kept the rest of us away, that’s for sure.

According to my quick research yesterday, some people thought asafetida would keep away flu, or even polio. After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed almost 100 million people, according to the book “Healing Spices,” pharmacies used to sell “asafidity” and “asafidity bags.”

Internet research says asafetida is a bitter, gummy resin made of a fennel-type of plant that is native to the Middle East and similar parts of the world. The name is derived from “asa gum” and the Latin word “foetidus” for evil-smelling.

I do remember the stuff smelled really bad.

The “Davesgarden.com” site has a posting by Bev Walker who says scientists took a new look at asafetida, and found it had antiviral properties.

In addition to the herb powder, asafetida was frequently mixed with garlic, onions and other herbs people believed had healing qualities.

I didn’t have a granny who made us wear I had an asafetida bag so I’m certainly no expert. I do remember finding a lacy metal open-work locket that still had some of the dark-brown, gummy stuff dried in it. I thought that was terrific. I wonder what ever happened to it in my childhood treasures.

Anyway, today’s medical experts are encouraging us to get a flu shot if you haven’t already had one, eat healthy, get lots of rest, wash your hands frequently and stay away from sick people.

Since I can’t take flu shots because I was allergic to eggs when I was a baby and flu vaccine is grown on eggs, I usually take my chances with flu. Knock on wood, I’ve only had it twice in the last 13 years. Maybe I’ll just start wearing a couple of cloves of garlic around my neck, instead.

Editor’s note: Since I published this in the printed edition of the Salem Times-Register on Jan. 10, reader Frank Munley sent an article from “Saudi Aramco World” about asafoetida, also known as “Devil’s Dung,” which it called the world’s smelliest spice. Supposedly asafoetida resin – which the article says comes from Ferula assafoetida, a relative of carrol and fennel plants (wonder if it’s related to Queen Anne’s Lace, too?) dropped into olive oil to sauté gives a rich, savory scent similar to sauteéd onions. It is used in pickled dishes and in the West, is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. Who knew?

 

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