Ozark Encyclopedia – A – Asafetida

Asafetida, Ferula assa-foetida, also known as “Devil’s dung,” “asafetidy,” or “asafedy,” was used in folk healing and folk magic throughout the South. As a remedy it was often hung in bags around children’s necks to ward off colds and the flu. The so-called “magical” properties of the plant come from its pungent odor which is thought to keep away evil, sickness causing spirits and forces. 

Parts used: root resin

Traditional uses: “The odour of Asafetida is stronger and more tenacious than that of the onion, the taste is bitter and acrid; the odour of the gum resin depends on the volatile oil. It is much used in India and Persia in spite of its offensive odour as a condiment and is thought to exercise a stimulant action on the brain. It is a local stimulant to the mucous membrane, especially to the alimentary tract, and therefore is a remedy of great value as a carminative in flatulent colic and a useful addition to laxative medicine. There is evidence that the volatile oil is eliminated through the lungs, therefore it is excellent for asthma bronchitis, whooping-cough, etc. Owing to its vile taste it is usually taken in pill form, but is often given to infants per rectum in the form of an emulsion. The powdered gum resin is not advocated as a medicine, the volatile oil being quickly dissipated.” ~Grieve MH

Taking a spell off of a firearm – “It is said that a bewitched firearm can somehow be disenchanted with asafetida, but I have never been able to find out anything definite about this method.” ~Randolph OMF 294

Worn as protection from illness – “Ozark children, in many isolated sections, still wear little packets of asafetida all winter to protect them from the common diseases of childhood. When spring comes, with sassafras tea and other internal prophylactics, the child is permitted to discard the asafetida.” ~Randolph OMF 154

“Wear a little bag of asafetida around the neck to keep off diseases.” ~Carter and Krause HRIO 34

“I know, in World War I, in 18, there was flu, influenza. I had a little old bag of asafetida tied around my neck. It’s waxy and stinks, kind of grey and pink colored mixed. I forgot about the people on the other hill having the flu and I went down to the house. While I was there I got to thinking about it and I heard him cough in that bedroom and I took off. I chewed that dog gone thing, that asafetida bag all the way home but I still had the flu, carried it home. My mother died with it and my brother.” ~Carter and Krause HRIO 34

“A man from home told me that if you hung a bag of asafoetida around your neck, you wouldn’t get a cold or sore throat.” ~Parler FBA II 1788

“Here’s a block of [asafetidy] of gum. And I want a wad tied up to a rag and put around all the grandyoungs’ necks so that they won’t catch no disease…And it you have ever smelled [asafetidy] you can understand why. My mother used to say she’d wear it religiously.” ~Parler OFC Reel 123 May 23, 1951

Worms, turpentine, asafetida, and red onion juice as a liniment – “Grease rendered from red earthworms mixed with turpentine, asafoetida and red onion juice makes a good liniment because all of these substances draw their strength from the earth.” ~Parler FBA II 1372

Carter, Kay & Bonnie Krause Home Remedies of the Illinois Ozarks (HRIO)

Grieve, Margaret A Modern Herbal (MH)

Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA) & Ozark Folksong Collection (OFC)

Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)

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