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FERULA ASSAF ETIDA.-ASSAFETIDA.
Class V, PENTANDRIA.-ORDER II. DIGYNIA.
NATURAL Order, UMBELLIFERÆ.—THE UMBELLIFEROUS TRIBE.
Fig. (a) and (b) the seed; (c) the corolla, magnified.
This species of Ferula is a native of the south of Persia, growing on the mountains in the provinces of Chorasaan and Laar, where it is named Hingisch. The following description we copy from Kaempfer, who saw the plant growing during his travels in Asia.
“The root is perennial, tapering, ponderous, and attains the size of a man's arm or leg, covered with blackish coloured bark, and near the top beset with many strong rigid fibres; the internal substance is white, fleshy, and abounds with a thick, fætid, milky juice; the stalk is simple, erect, straight, round, smooth, striated, herbaceous, about six or seven inches in circumference at the base, and rises to the height of two or three yards; the radical leaves are six or seven, nearly two feet long, bipinnate; the pinnæ are alternate, variously sinuated, lobed or lanceolate, smooth, of a deep green colour, and fætid smell ; the umbels are compound, planu-convex, terminal, and consist of many radii; the seeds are oval, flat, foliaceous, of a reddish brown colour, rough, marked with three longitudinal lines, have a porraceous smell, and a sharp bitter taste.
This plant is said to vary according to the situation and soil in which it grows, not only in the shape of the leaves, but in the nauseous quality of the juice with which they are impregnated, sometimes becoming so mild as to be eaten by the goats. The gum resin known in commerce under the name of Assafoetida, is the concrete juice of the root of this plant. When the plants are about four years old, the roots are sufficiently vigorous to yield the Assafoetida. In the provinces of Chorasaan it is procured in the following manner :at the season when the leaves begin to decay, the oldest and most vigorous plants are selected, the earth from the upper part of the root is cleared away, the stem and leaves twisted off; it is then left in this state for forty days, being previously screened from the sun by covering it over with the decayed leaves : at the expiration of this time the covering is removed, and the top of the root cut off transversely, and left for fortyeight hours for the juice to exude, when it is scraped off by a proper instrument, and exposed to the sun to harden. This operation is repeated three times, after which the root is again covered up, and suffered to remain for eight or ten days, when it is again uncovered and another transverse section is made as before. In this way the Assafoetida is collected eight times, when the root becomes exhausted of its juice, and soon after perishes. The collecting of the Assafætida is performed by the peasants who live in the neighbourhood of the mountains ; the juice from a number of roots is collected at the same time, put together, and exposed to the sun to harden.
SENSIBLE AND CHEMICAL PROPERTIES. Assafoetida comes to market in large irregular masses of a heterogeneous appearance, composed of various shining little lumps or grains, some of which are white, others of a brown or reddish colour, and some of a violet hue. Those masses are esteemed the best which are clear, of a pale reddish colour, and variegated with a great number of fine white tears. Assafoetida has a strong, fetid, and to most persons, a disagreeable odour, and a bitter, subacid taste; it becomes brittle by exposure to the air, but is not readily reduced to powder. It is composed chiefly of gum, resin, and essential oil, the latter of which is obtained by distillation, either with water or alcohol. Its odour and taste reside in the resin and oil, which are readily dissolved by ether and alcohol; hence the alcoholic and ethereal tinctures combine the virtues of this drug, the former dissolving three parts out of four: By trituration with water Assafotida forms an opaque milky solution, about 60 per cent. being readily dissolved, which is chiefly extractive matter.
MEDICAL PROPERTIES AND USES. Assafotida is stimulant, expectorant, and antispasmodic, it is considered a more efficacious medicine than any of the other fetid gums; hence it has been much employed in hysteria, hypochondriasis, flatulent colics, tympanites, dyspepsia, and many nervous disorders ; also as an anthelmintic, and as an emmenagogue, and for those peculiar convulsive and spasmodic symptoms which so often recur in the latter disease, it frequently proves the most efficacious remedy we possess. When we wish it to act immediately as an antispasmodic, it should be given in a fluid form, as that of the diluted tincture; when inflammatory symptoms are present, it should be used with caution, owing to its stimulant qualities, and it may be conveniently combined with nitre or antimonials according to the state of the patient. As a topical remedy it is applied in the form of plaster to promote suppuration in indolent tumours, and also in the form of enema in convulsions attending dentition, worms, flatulent colic, &c. Assafætida may be taken in doses of from five to twenty grains, two, three, or more times a day.
Off. The Gum-resin.
Mistura Assafætidæ, L. D.
Pilulæ Assafætidæ Compositæ, E.
It is curious to observe the perspiration of plants, which is of various kinds. When of a watery nature, it can only be considered as a condensation of their insensible evaporation, perhaps resulting from some sudden change in the atmosphere. Groves of poplar, or willow, exhibit this phenomenon even in England, in hot calm weather; when drops of clear water trickle from their leaves, like a slight shower of rain. Sometimes it is of a saccharine nature, as De la Hire observed in orange-trees. It is more glutinous in the lime, more resinous in the poplar, as well as in the cistus creticus. In the fractinus dictamnus albus, it is a highly inflammable vapour. Ovid has made an elegant use of the resinous exudations of Lombardy poplars, which he supposes to be the tears of Phaeton's sisters, who were transformed into those trees. Such exudations must be considered as peculiar secretions; for, it has been observed that, manna may be scraped from the leaves of the fraxinus ornus, as well as procured by incisions from its stem. They are sometimes signs of unhealthiness in the plant; at least such appears to be the nature of one kind of honey-dew, to which the birch is subject, and which, in consequence of an unfavourable wind, covers its leaves in the form of a sweet secretion.
The perspiration of aquatic plants appears to be remarkably copious. Of these a considerable number grow constantly immersed in water; as most species of potamogeton, or pond-weed. Their leaves are peculiarly vascular, drying quickly in the air, and withering after a few minutes exposure to it.
The under sides of leaves are furnished with absorbing vessels: hence, in dry weather, they are seen to hang down. The truth of this assertion may be readily discovered by placing two leaves in water on different surfaces; the one that floats upon the lower side will continue fresh and green for many days and weeks; while the other will immediately decay. Of sixteen leaves tried by Bonnet, the aspin and lilac were the only ones that seemed to imbibe moisture equally well on both sides. The leaves of the white mulberry were in this respect very remarkable: those supplied by the upper surface began to wither in the course of a few days, while the others continued in perfection for nearly six months. Leaves of the hazelnut and rose, not only imbibe sufficient moisture for their own support, but also nourish such as grow upon the same branch. This property is particularly obvious in the leaflet of a French-bean, which has been seen to preserve its neighbour fresh, and unwithered, for a considerable time.
It has been already observed, that the perspiration of aquatic plants is very copious; their absorbing powers are equally so, and they appear to be continually imbibing and emitting a quantity of moisture, much greater than has been observed in land-plants. Many aquatics, as the nymphæa alba, or white water-lily, float with only the upper surface of their leaves exposed to the air, which surface is so contrived that water will scarcely remain upon it. These leaves, though extremely juicy in their nature, dry with great rapidity, as does every part of the plant when gathered. It is extremely probable that they draw in water very copiously through their under sides, and perspire by the upper.