Primary Source

Edward Waring on Assafœtida as medicine in India


Medical publications appealed to a medical and popular audience in the hopes of providing surgeons with tips on how to obtain similar drugs and medicine in local bazaars which could not be obtained elsewhere. Waring compiled local and indigenous medical knowledge and provided the Latin and local name of each medicine found in markets in southern India. Latin nomenclature and classification legitimized medical knowledge and the “true” identity of a plant in ways that local names did not, according to Western experts. Local, or common, names of plants could often refer to many plants of different species, whereas the Latin name only referred to one specific plant. There is one clear reason Waring provided both the Latin name and common name of plants (in several languages), so that doctors could procure the plant at local markets across the colonies. The unintentional (or perhaps intentional) consequence of adopting the Latin name over the common name was the erasure of pertinent information regarding the plant. Often times, plant names in various languages indicated important information about the plant including the cultural uses (ceremonies, religious rituals, and taboos) and physical uses of plants (if it was edible, could be used as building materials, as pest control, and medicinal uses). Waring encouraged doctors working in India to use local medicine which was easier and cheaper to obtain than European medicine, so knowing the local name was essential to obtaining the plants. This primary source provides an opportunity to discuss the concept of epistemology, who gets to create knowledge, and what information is silenced through the creation of knowledge (hierarchy of knowledge influenced by gender, race, and class).
    While there is much that can be inferred by Waring’s favoring the Latin name over the local indigenous names of plants, the author provides several names of each plant in various languages. Often, Waring describes medicines such as aloe that cure menstrual issues, hemorrhoids, and constipation, conflating these medical issues as common female ailments. It is worth mentioning that Waring describes all ailments in neutral terms except for female ailments and treatments for children, as if only women have a gender. 


(Page 22) 

33. Assafœtida 
•    Hing (Hind., Duk., Beng., Punj., Mah., Guz.), Yang (Kash.), Káyam, Perun-gáyam (Tam.), Inguva (Tel.), Perun-gáyam, Káyam (Mal.), Perun-kayam (Cing.), Shinkhu or Shingu (Burm.), Hingu (Malay).
34. Assafœtida of good quality may be obtained in most bazaars.  The moister and most strongly smelling kinds should be chosen for medical purposes. It may be given in the form of pill, in doses of from five to ten grains; or in that of mixture, prepared by rubbing down in a mortar five drachms of Assafœtida in a pint of hot water, and straining, and setting aside to cool. Of this solution, which is thick and milky, the dose is from one to two tablespoonsfuls.  Its nauseous taste is a great objection to its use. 
    35. In Hysterical Fits and in Fainting, Nervous Palpitations, and other affections connected with Hysteria, Assafœtida proves most useful.  When the symptoms are urgent, as in fits, &c., it is best given in the liquid form (ante), but where the object is rather to combat the tendency to this state, and to make an impression on the system, the solid form should be preferred. For this purpose it may be advantageously combined with aloes as advised in Sect. 19.

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"Edward Waring on Assafœtida as medicine in India ," in World History Commons, [accessed June 13, 2024]