Perennial growing to 23cm from a bulb-like corm. Saffron plant has narrow leaves up to 260mm long. In Autumn it produces purple flowers 3.5 – 5cm long, which contain three bright red threadlike stigmas.(Bown, p 268-269; Chevallier, p 194).
Native to India, the Balkans, and the eastern Mediterranean, saffron is cultivated in a number of countries in these areas, and in recent years in New Zealand.
Saffron is a hardy little plant which prefers well-drained soil in a warm situation, in full sun. It can be propagated by offsets removed from the parent corm in late Spring. Flowers are picked when open and the pistils removed for drying. It does not store well and should be used within a year of harvesting.
Saffron has been prized as a spice and colourant for over 4000 years.
Saffron spice is widely used to scent rice dishes, milky puddings, breads, and cakes. It is one of the ingredients in the liqueur Chartreuse. Preparation tip: Saffron strands can be infused in a little warm water or milk until the colour of the liquid (yellow) is even. Add the liquid and strands to the dish you are preparing.
Saffron has been used traditionally to treat fever, respiratory diseases, and depression. In children it has been used for respiratory infections, colic and to relieve teething pain.
Saffron contains water-soluble pigments called crocins, bitters (eg. picrocrocin), and an essential oil containing safranal. It also contains flavonoids and carotenoids (which give it its colour). Recent research has compared saffron with antidepressant pharmaceuticals in treatment of depression (Akhondzadeh,2004/2005), and in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease with the pharmaceutical donepezil (Akhondzadeh,2010). It has been shown useful in relieving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.(Agha-Hosseini,2008).
Modern indications are in treatment of depression, fatigue, to support cognitive function, respiratory infections, menstrual disorders, dyspepsia and colic, and because of the high carotenoid content – to support retinal function in the eye.
Saffron must not be confused with the poisonous meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale).
Saffron has been used as an aborfacient at doses of 10g.
Akhondzadeh, A. et al (2004) BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine; 4:12.
Akhondzadeh, A et al. (2005) J Ethnopharmacology;97:281
Akhondzadeh, A. et al (2010) Psychopharmacology;207:637
Agha-Hosseini, M. et al (2008) British Journal Obstetric Gynaecology; 115:515
Bown, D. ( 1995 ) Encyclopedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley. NSW. Australia.
Chevallier, A. (1996) The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Dorling Kindersley, London. Sanmugam, D. (20020. North Indian Cooking. Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd. Singapore.