Did your elders reminisce about the horrid-smelling acifidity bags they were made to wear during their childhood to protect them from the flu, disease, and evil spirits? Most did not know what was in the bags, but I do!
According to the book "Healing Spices," asafoetida was endorsed by the US Pharmacopedia as a remedy for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed almost 100,000,000 people globally and claimed tens of thousands of American lives per week for two years. The putrid smelling spice was stocked by pharmacies to be draped around the neck inside acifidity bags in an attempt to deflect the deadly strain of influenza. 
Naturally, the word "flu" struck terror in the minds of generations to follow, and the smelly cure-all medicine bags appear repeatedly throughout history whenever an outbreak of potential epidemic illness or disease occurs. Babies and school-aged children were forced to wear acifidity bags during outbreaks of polio, measles, and during the winter to stave off influenza.
What is Asafoetida?
Asafoetida is a resin derived from the four-year-old roots of the Ferula asafoetida plant, a member of the fennel species. The plant is cut back at the ground to make a slit in the top of the root for the resin to ooze out, then covered to protect from the elements. This action is repeated until enough of the hardened resin forms a walnut-shaped brown ball for harvest. The brown clump is ground into a powder and mixed with flour and other ingredients for market.
Asafoetida is native to the higher altitudes of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Central China, Iran, and Afghanistan, and is a primary imported spice to India, an essential ingredient in curries and used as a medicine for centuries (noted in ancient reference dating 400 BC). Use of plant's resinous root juice has appeared in writings of Alexander the Great, medical practitioners in the first century, noted in the histories of ancient Rome, and used as a medicine into the Middle Ages. 
The strong sulfurous odor of asafoetida mellows in cooking, yielding a strong sweet onion-garlic flavor to dishes. Very little of the spice is necessary so a small container lasts a long time. The potent powder is best fried in butter (ghee) to dissipate the smell before adding the remaining ingredients to the pot. The storage of asafoetida requires an airtight container enclosed in a sealable bag (or two) to prevent the smell from contaminating other pantry items.
The powdered resin has a very long list of uses, here are just a few:
whooping cough, bronchial, and asthmatic issues
antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties for use in acifidity bags, soups, and teas
cure for intestinal worms
contraceptive and causing abortion (pregnant women beware)
antiflatulent that eases digestion and constipation, perfect for dishes containing legumes and foods that may be hard on the digestive system
natural meat preservative and pickling
successful lure for fishing (for coating bait)
repels evil spirits and potential disease-infected strangers
During the swine flu pandemic (a similar deadly strain of the Spanish flu virus) in 2009, antiviral drugs were in short supply, vaccines took months to develop, and were expensive ($100 per shot). Scientists in labs worldwide were testing natural home remedies as alternatives for potential unprotected populations. Lab reports proved that asafoetida resin lived up to its historical hype as a cure. The test results found multiple strong antiviral constituents and additional properties much more potent than the costly manufactured treatments. 
With further testing of asafoetida's, researchers also discovered the powerful antioxidant polyphenols were very successful in fighting many forms of cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 
It's in the Bag!
I am incorporating asafoetida powder to my pantry of culinary and medicinal herbs and spices! Today's intellectual society may laugh or frown on the malodorous amulets of the past, but history has shown that some home remedies actually have merit! So what will be in your acidity bag if you ever need one?
All other photographs remain the property of the author. ENDNOTES:  Bharat Aggarwal, PhD & Deborah Yost. Healing Spices. Sterling Publishing, NY. 2011  Botanical.com. A Modern Herbal. Mrs. M. Greive. Pine, White. www.botanical.com/.  My Indian Food. Asafetida. www.my-indian-food.com/Asafetida.html
The medicine bags were also known by some as "Sally rags."
Asafoetida was not the only smelly remedy used in an acifidity bag:
and other odorous herbs
Traditional culture and available herbs and spices, dictated the contents of acifidity bags around the world.
About Bev Walker
I was a serious organic gardener and composter 30 years ago, then my life took me in a new direction with kids and career. I am just now returning to gardening and learning new techniques, and loving every minute of it. I hope to share my experiences with you from my shady yard.