Folks were still wearing evil-smelling bags of ‘asafoetida’ around their necks to ward off respiratory problems in the early 20th Century, and the herb has been used for thousands of years both as an antimicrobial and for ills ranging from seizures to flatulence.
Now Chinese scientists are finding that components of the plant with the offputting sap show great efficacy in killing off the H1N1 swine flu virus. The plant, Ferula assa-foetida, grows throughout Iran, Afghanistan and mainland China, and is commonly dubbed "Dung of the Devil" due to its smell.
The researchers note that the plant was used in China against the influenza virus during the great 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, which is thought to have killed tens of millions worldwide.
But until now no one has confirmed that Ferula assa-foetida has natural antiviral properties. As they report in the Sep 25 Journal of Natural Products (“Influenza A (H1N1) Antiviral and Cytotoxic Agents from Ferula assa-foetida" ), laboratory experiments by FR Chang, et al. have identified a group of chemicals in the plant's very complex extracts that appear to have a stronger potency against H1N1 flu than a prescription antiviral medication already in use against the flu (amantadine).
They write that these compounds from assa-foetida roots "may serve as promising lead components for new drug development against influenza A (H1N1) viral infection."
Source: American Chemical Society news release, Sep 9, 2009