Health Benefits of Saffron

saff1Saffron is a very costly spice, used to flavor and color food. The spice is actually the dried stigma (tiny threadlike strands) of the Crocus Sativus Linneaus, a member of the iris family. A flower’s stigma accepts the pollen that is produced by the stamen, which becomes the seeds of the next generation. Each stigma is very small, and tens of thousands of individual strands go into a single ounce of the spice; since the stigmas are hand-plucked from the individual flowers, saffron’s high cost becomes more understandable. It is thought that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

Saffron originated in the middle east, but is now also associated with Greek, Indian and Spanish cuisines. Fortunately, a very little saffron goes a long way � it is a spice to be added one thread at a time. Just a thread or two can flavor and color an entire pot of rice. The flavor is distinctive and pungent. Most ‘saffron rice’ mixes commercially available actually use a substitute which dyes the rice the distinctive yellow but which does not impart the flavor of true saffron.

The history of saffron cultivation reaches back more than 3,000 years. According to Greek mythology, handsome mortal Crocos fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. But alas, his favors were rebuffed by Smilax, and he was turned into a beautiful purple crocus flower.

The word saffron derives from the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow, and it was mentioned as far back as 1500 b.c. in many classical writings, as well as in the Bible. Further derivations come from the Old French safran, Medieval Latin safranum, and Middle English safroun.

Saffron is harvested from the fall-flowering plant Crocus sativus, a member of the Iris family. It is native to Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years to be used in medicines, perfumes, dyes, and as a wonderful flavoring for foods and beverages.

The red-gold threads were also highly prized by pharoahs and kings as an aphrodisiac, yet large amounts produce deathly narcotic effects.

Saffron has been used medicinally to reduce fevers, cramps and enlarged livers, and to calm nerves. It has also been used externally to for bruises, rheumatism, and neuralgia. (Warning! Do not use medicinally without consulting your physician.)

Although the majority of the world’s saffron is produced in Iran, Spain is the world’s largest exporter of saffron.

Definition: Saffron is a spice used in many cultures for cooking. It is by far the most expensive spice in the world, and is worth more than gold by weight. It can cost up to $2000 per pound depending on the quality. Nonetheless, saffron is used in many rice dishes to add color and flavoring. Threads from a crocus flower are picked and are an intense red color. The threads are ground into a powder and the powder produce a very vibrant yellow color.

Pronunciation: saf-fron

Also Known As: za-faran (Arabic translation)

Common Misspellings: safron


As a therapeutically plant, saffron it is considered an excellent stomach ailment and an antispasmodic, helps digestion and increases appetite. It is also relieves renal colic, reduces stomachaches and relieves tension. During the last years it was used as a drug for flu-like infections, depression and as a sedative for its essential oils. It is also considered that in small quantities it regulates women’s menstruation, and helps conception. In pharmaceutical industry 125 gram of pure saffron essence is enough for making 300 million sedative tablets.

Saffron is given to reduce fevers, cramps and enlarged livers, to calm nerves. In the western world it is used primarily as a spice. But it is also discovering its uses as a health tonic, which naturally does not have side effects. About 50 mg of Saffron dissolved in a glass of 200ml milk and a spoonful of sugar makes a very tasty drink, which is also a health tonic. A regular intake of this every day for a period of time enables the body to build resistance against a lot of common diseases such as Asthma, Common colds claim Ayurvedic Practitioners. But beware; do not to expect it to act as a magic potion because it is essential to have a regular intake for it to be effective.

Saffron in Western Medicine:

1) The Ebers Papyrus (Ca 1550 BC) has mentioned it as an ingredient in case of kidney problems.
2) Due to the presence of crocetin it indirectly helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
3) Two compounds in Saffron are supposed to increase anti-bacterial and anti-viral physiological activity in the body.
4) In the USA it was given to children in exanthematous diseases for promoting eruptions.
5) Based on Urdang’s reports and records of Ancient and Medieval periods indicate anti tumor & anti cancerous activities.

Saffron in Eastern Medicine:

Here is list of a few uses that saffron is put to in medicine as a cure and as a preventive. The list by no means exhaustive and is just to give you an idea of the usefulness of this exotic herb. These details have been taken from a paper by Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Sidhha (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare)

1) Curing Asthma & Cough
2) Useful in Colds
3) To treat Alcoholism
4) To treat Acne and Skin Diseases.
5) Used in medicines that reduce inflammation
6) For treatment of enlarged Liver and infection of Urinary Bladder and Kidneys
7) As an ingredient in recipes useful in Menstrual disorders
8) For strengthening the heart and as a refrigerant for the brain
9) As a diuretic if soaked overnight in water and administered with honey
10) Pounded with clarified butter (Ghee) it is used for treating diabetic patients.
11) It can be use to make the gum pain, relax.
12) The mixture of saffron with olive oil use for curing the hurted muscles.