Scientists have looked far and wide for a medicine that can counter the H1N1 or swine flu virus and now it seems they have found a plant that may prove to be the microbe's doom inside an infected body. The plant has been known used since ancient times in China as a flu remedy and its roots were even used to fight the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic.
The plant, which is found in China, Iran, and Afghanistan, is the Ferula asafetida. It's common name is Dung of the Devil because of it's foul stench. Even its scientific name gives a clue to how it smells like, which is fetid! Researchers at the Kaohsiung Medial University in Taiwan have known that the genus it belongs to has over 230 natural healing compounds and they discovered that it had potent anti-viral compounds tat killed the H1N1 virus in laboratory tests using plant samples from a Chinese medicinal shop.
The researchers say the compounds discovered in the Ferula asafetida plant could prove to be useful for new medicines against swine flu. Let's just hope that they can make the smell of the plant negligible once the compounds are in capsule or pill form. We all know how some remedies can smell so foul and it looks like this new medicine from the Dung of the Devil plant will follow in that tradition. Strangely, it's been traditionally used as a spice in cooking as early as the ancient Egyptian and Roman times. In Cairo today, you can buy powdered asafoetida (which looks and smells like real dung) at the Harraz Herb Shop near the Bab al-Khalq square. It's sometimes mixed with other spices like turmeric.
You'd wonder why something which can smell so offensive can be used for cooking delicious food. It's said by those who've used it that once you cook it in hot oil, you would get the delectable and savory scent of onions sauteeing. It's said that the heat breaks down the sulfides that cause the stench. You'd wonder how something could have been discovered to be good to cook with the in the first place! It's very popular in India, and in religious Jainism practices, asafoetida is used as a substitute for onions and garlic which are forbidden.