[Sca-cooks] herb seasoning question

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Thu Mar 1 20:39:43 PST 2007

> Jadwiga Zajaczkowa / Jenne Heise wrote:
>> Er... True silphium went extinct during the Roman period during the
>> first century CE; a number of Roman texts refer to this fact. Asafoetida
>> was later used as a substitute, but it was still considered inferior.
> You have me stuck here. I thought asafoetida was extracted from
> silphium. So I  can't understand texts saying it was extinct during the
> 1st C CE.
> Jadwiga/Jenne are answering in reference to my message in which I wrote:
>    "In North Africa "it" was grown especially in Cyrene where "it" was
> cultivated for export."
> So what was "it" that they could have been growing?
> Suey

Asafoetida is extracted from a number of plants in genus Ferula, primarily 
Ferula asafoetida (L.).  F. asafoetida is believed to be the laser parthicum 
which replaced silphium in Roman cooking.

Silphium, a Roman variant of the Greek silphion, is considered to be an 
extinct species of Ferula.  The Romans referred to the plant as laser or 
laserpicium.  IIRC, Pliny describes the overgrazing and harvesting practices 
that made the plant extinct.  The last plant harvested was sent to the 
Emperor Nero.

There is scientific speculation that silphium is F. tingitana, which is a 
nearly extinct species that is making a comeback in North Africa, but the 
evidence is inconclusive.


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