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Asafoetida(Hing in Hindi) is a resin and actually comes in chunks although 
you find it ground to a powdered form for convenience now. It is used in 
Indian cooking a lot, although South Indian cooking use it in almost every 
savory dish, especially lentil/peas/dahl based. It is supposed to aid in 
digestion and reduce flatulence considerably. 

Being a South Indian, I grew up eating dishes using asafoetida. It is still 
very strong smelling and I try not to smell it when using it. In its chunky
form, it does not smell as bad. I keep the powdered form in a small glass 
spice jar which I store in a larger plastic container. Some hints to cook with
it - Use a tiny pinch in savory dishes only, ordinarily where you don't use
onions and garlic or where onions/garlic could overpower the dish. To mellow
the flavor, the only way I know is not very fatfree, but you could use say
about 1/16th tsp oil. Heat the oil, add the asafoetida and wait till almost
smoking and dump the contents to the dish where you want to add it. It actually
smells good at this point. 

To use as medicine for indigestion, beat plain yogurt till creamy with a little
salt. Heat a little oil, add the asafoetida, wait till the oil is smoking
and dump the oil and asafoetida into the yogurt and mix thoroughly. It will be
almost like raita without veggies. 

-- Nalini.