What is saffron?

Saffron comes from the crocus sativus flower. Individuals painstakingly hand-harvest the dark reddish filament from the pistil and dry it to create the spice saffron. Only three saffron threads come from every blossom, which explains why saffron is super costly. Saffron is tucked away in the spice section of your grocery store or specialty markets.

Saffron is among the most precious spices in the world. The thread-like red stigmas and the yellowish color they exude are simply amazing. However, what is saffron, exactly? Most people are unclear what to do with saffron or if it's worth the high price. Manufacturers may wrap the delicate threads in dark plastic or paper before placing it in the jar to protect it from damaging light. Fortunately, saffron remains fresh for years, if kept in an opaque, well-sealed container.

See: Saffron: a potential candidate for a novel anticancer drug against hepatocellular carcinoma.

Where does saffron come from?

The spice originates from a flower called crocus sativus--commonly called the "saffron crocus." It's thought that saffron originated and was first cultivated in Greece, but now the spice is mostly grown in Iran, Greece, Morocco, and India. While micro-scale creation of saffron does exist in America, most saffron discovered here is imported.

Saffron is an expensive spice due to its labor-intensive harvesting process. Saffron is harvested by hand. It started in Greece, where it was admired for its medicinal properties. People would eat saffron to improve libido, boost mood, and improve memory. The advantages of saffron extract go past the kitchen.

Healers have been using saffron for centuries for digestion, detox, and also to treat tumors. Lately, saffron and its active ingredient crocin caught the interest of researchers. It has been researched extensively due to its capacity to balance moods, the ability to help you drop weight, heal wounds, lower cholesterol and more. You may recognize saffron as the star ingredient in gold saffron rice or a special recipe. You observe the color instantly, and the taste is so different and delicious that you can not compare it to anything else.

See: Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials.

Saffron nutrition facts

In one tablespoon of saffron, there are:

Carbohydrates – 1.37 grams

Fat – 0.12 grams

Proteins – 0.24 grams

Vitamins:

Vitamin B2: 0.01 mg

Vitamin B3: 0.03 mg

Vitamin B6: 0.02 mg

Vitamin B9: .002 ug

Vitamin C: 1.7 mg

Minerals:

Copper: 0.01 mg

Phosphorous: 5 mg

Iron: 0.23 mg

Manganese: 0.6 mg

Magnesium: 6 mg

Potassium: 36 mg

Kaempferol:  4.3 mg

The most significant compounds in saffron that provide the antioxidant benefits, taste, and smell of saffron are crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal. There are over one hundred compounds in saffron.

See: How to increase libido naturally

Saffron health benefits

Saffron has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Modern research is catching up with explaining the scientific mechanisms and the science behind many of the benefits.

- Potent Antioxidant

Saffron contains an impressive selection of plant chemicals that act as antioxidants -- molecules that protect your cells from oxidative stress by donating an electron. Crocin, crocetin, safranal, and kaempferol are the important saffron antioxidants. Crocin and crocetin are carotenoid pigments and accountable for saffron's reddish color. Both chemicals may have antidepressant properties, protect brain cells from advanced harm, improve inflammation, decrease appetite, and assist weight loss.

Safranal provides saffron its distinct taste and odor. Research shows that it might help improve your mood, memory, learning capability, and protect your brain cells from oxidative stress. Kaempferol is located in saffron flower petals. This compound has been associated with health benefits, such as decreased inflammation, anti-cancer properties, and antidepressant action. Saffron is full of plant chemicals that act as antioxidants, such as crocin, crocetin, safranal, and kaempferol. Antioxidants protect your body cells from oxidative stress.

- May Fight Cancer

The high antioxidant content in saffron helps to neutralize harmful free radicals. Free radical damage has been associated with chronic diseases, such as cancer. Early research has found that saffron and its compounds have been shown to selectively kill colon cancer cells or suppress their development, without harming healthy cells. This effect also applies to prostate, lung, breast, esophageal, and many other cancer cells. Early research studies have found that crocin, the major antioxidant in saffron, can make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs.

- May Heal Depressive Symptoms

Saffron is nicknamed the "sunshine spice." That's not just because of the different color, but also because it might help enhance your mood. A five studies review found that saffron supplements were significantly more effective than placebos at treating mild-to-moderate melancholy symptoms. Other research found that taking a daily amount of 30 mg of saffron was equally as successful as some of the traditional treatments for depression. Additionally, fewer individuals experienced side effects from saffron in comparison to other therapies. While these findings are promising, the saffron petals and thread-like stigma seem to work against mild-to-moderate depression.

PMS Symptoms

Women may experience Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that include physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms before the beginning of a menstrual period. Studies indicate that saffron may help treat such PMS symptoms. Women between 20-45 years old who took 30 mg of saffron daily was more effective than a placebo in treating PMS symptoms, such as irritability, headaches, cravings, and pain. Another study found that just smelling saffron for 20 minutes helped decrease PMS symptoms and lowered the stress hormone cortisol levels. Reducing PMS symptoms

Saffron can also act to decrease the signs of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Eating and smelling saffron seem to help treat PMS symptoms, such as cravings, pain, irritability, headaches, and anxiety.

- Boost Your Libido

Saffron might have aphrodisiac properties for both women and men. Studies have demonstrated that saffron may have aphrodisiac properties, particularly in people taking antidepressants. Aphrodisiacs are foods or supplements that can help boost your libido. Taking 30 mg of saffron daily for more than four weeks significantly improved erectile function over placebo in men with antidepressant-related erectile dysfunction. An analysis of six studies showed that saffron helped libido, and significantly improved erectile function. In women with low sexual desire because of taking antidepressants, 30 mg of saffron daily more than four weeks decreased sex-related pain and improved sexual appetite and lubrication.

- May Help Weight Loss

Research suggests that saffron might help stop snacking by suppressing your appetite. Snacking is a frequent habit that may put you in danger of gaining unwanted weight.  Research in the Journal of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Research discovered that carrying a saffron infusion helped individuals with coronary artery disease decrease their body mass index (BMI), total fat mass, and waist circumference. Individuals who took the supplement also had a diminished appetite compared to those in the placebo group. In a single eight-week study, women taking saffron supplements felt considerably more complete, snacked less often, and lost more weight than women in the placebo group. In another eight-week study, taking a saffron infusion supplement helped significantly reduce body mass index (BMI), appetite, waist circumference, and total fat mass.

- May Help Memory

Saffron's antioxidant properties may improve memory in adults with Alzheimer's disease. Preventing nervous system disorders The antioxidants in saffron can play a part in protecting the body from disorders affecting the nervous system. Research from 2015 notes that chemicals in saffron, such as crocin, seem to decrease inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain, leading to beneficial outcomes. A study in the Antioxidants journal noted that saffron might theoretically assist with Alzheimer's symptoms because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory consequences of memory-enhancing properties. Individuals with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's who took saffron for 22 months had cognitive improvements comparable to those of individuals who took medication, with fewer side effects.

May Benefit Asthma

Saffron has been utilized in traditional medicine to treat asthma attacks. In animal studies, saffron extract successfully decreased asthma by reducing inflammation in the lungs. Saffron may exert this advantage by relaxing the smooth muscles of the lungs, as seen in mice. However, the precise goal of saffron from the lungs is unknown and clinical trials are required to prove its effectiveness in humans.

- May Benefit Digestion: In rats, saffron reduced the harm of the lining of the gut brought on by excessive acid. This is mediated by the antioxidant proteins and the inhibition of oxidative stress. In rats, the daily usage of saffron inhibited the creation of ulcers caused by excessive histamine or anxiety. Similarly, in cells, saffron managed to fight ulcers caused by bacterial infections.

Boost Liver Health: In mice with liver damage, saffron decreased amounts of highly toxic proteins and fat deposits in the liver. In rats, saffron extract protected against carpet -induced liver damage.

May Heal Wounds: In rats, saffron extract lotion managed to treat burn wounds brought on by hot water. This is potentially a consequence of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. When analyzed in cells, the saffron infusion was able to raise levels of molecules that encourage skin growth and regeneration. Likewise, saffron reduced inflammatory molecules, which in turn promoted wound healing. This effect may prove beneficial in wound healing and in the makeup industry.

May Improve Bone Health: After menopause, many women suffer from problems with bone health leading to conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. This happens because of changes in hormone (estrogen) levels, which are responsible for maintaining bone health. In a rat model of osteoporosis, saffron infusion given for 16 weeks has been able to stop the development of osteoporosis. This was probably mediated by an increase in estrogen levels, which promotes healthy bone cell development.

-  Prevent Seizures: Saffron has been known in traditional medicine for its ability to prevent seizures (anticonvulsant properties). In animal studies, saffron use managed to suppress seizures at dosages over 400 mg/kg. However, a very significant dose of saffron was obliged to see these advantages. Such high doses pose the risk of toxicity and adverse effects. In epileptic mice, saffron's active ingredient safranal managed to suppress seizures. 

Painkiller: Saffron has been combined with opiates and other pain-relieving substances in conventional medicine. Certain types of pain can't be addressed with common painkillers, like neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain occurs inside the nerves and is a symptom of certain conditions like fibromyalgia and diabetes and may occur from injuries. In rats with damaged nerves, saffron infusion treatment for 40 days decreased pain associated with the damage. Similarly, in mice with morphine withdrawal, saffron managed to improve symptoms, including pain sensitivity. This implies that saffron can play a role in mediating specific kinds of pain, but this has not yet been confirmed in humans.

May Help Heart disease

May reduce heart disease risk factors: Studies suggest that saffron's antioxidant properties may lower blood cholesterol. This lower cholesterol can prevent blood vessels and arteries from clogging.

May Help Diabetes

May lower blood glucose levels: Saffron can lower blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity, as seen in test-tube mice and diabetes studies.

May Help Eye health

May improve vision in adults with cerebral macular degeneration (AMD): Saffron seems to improve vision in adults with AMD. Saffron also protects against free radical damage, which can be connected to AMD.


See: Ayurveda Herbs for Lungs & Sinusitis

Precautions & side effects

Precautions, Dosage, Side Effects

Saffron usually is safe, with little to no side effects. In standard cooking quantities, saffron doesn't seem to cause adverse effects in people. People can safely take around 1.5 g of saffron each day as a dietary supplement. However, only 30 mg of saffron daily is sufficient to realize its health benefits.

Precautions: High doses of 5 g or more can have toxic effects. Pregnant women should avoid high doses, as it can lead to miscarriage. As with any dietary supplements, talk to your doctor before you use saffron in supplement form.

Another problem with saffron is that it can be adulterated with other components, such as beet, red-dyed silk fibers, turmeric, and paprika. Adulteration cuts price for manufacturers, as actual saffron is expensive to harvest. It's crucial to buy saffron from a reputable brand to be sure you get an authentic product. 

Side effects

Generally speaking, the usage of saffron carries minimal risk. Cooking with saffron is a superb way to add it to the diet without consuming a lot of the spice. A daily intake of up to 1.5 g of saffron is usually safe, but overeating can be poisonous. Researchers believe 5 grams can be a toxic dose.

Very high doses may be more harmful to specific groups of individuals. For example, the writers of one study notice that pregnant women should avoid having more than 5 grams each day of saffron since it may have a stimulating effect on the uterus.

Allergic reactions can occur with saffron. If you experience an allergic reaction with saffron, consult with a physician immediately.

How to use it

One easy way to supplement a meal with saffron would be to add a few strands into a cup of warm water. Doing this pulls the majority of the taste from the saffron. Someone can then add both the water and saffron into a savory dish. Saffron is accessible as a nutritional supplement, generally in the form of powdered stigmas in capsules. Read the directions on the packaging and talk to a physician before taking any supplements.

See: How To Reduce Cholesterol Quickly

How to use saffron

- Supplement: Saffron is accessible as a nutritional supplement, generally in the form of powdered stigmas in capsules. You can buy saffron in supplement form to reap its benefits. Read and follow the directions on the packaging and talk to a physician before taking any supplements.

- In Water: One easy way to supplement a meal with saffron would be to add a few strands into a cup of warm water. Doing this pulls the majority of the taste from the saffron. Someone can then add both the water and saffron into a savory dish.

- Add to Your Meals: In smaller doses, saffron has a subtle flavor and odor and pairs well with many dishes. The perfect way to draw out saffron's unique flavor is to soak the threads in warm water. Insert the threads and the liquid into your recipe to reach a deeper, richer flavor. Saffron is readily available at most specialty niches and can be bought as ribbons or in powdered form. However, it's better to purchase the threads, as they give you more flexibility and are not as likely to be contaminated. A pinch of saffron is what you need to help your recipes. Using an excessive amount of saffron may create an overpowering medicinal flavor, and may even be harmful. Additionally, saffron can be found in supplement form. Saffron has a subtle flavor and aroma, making it effortless to enhance your diet. It pairs well with savory dishes and needs to be soaked in hot water to provide a deeper flavor.


See: Ayurvedic herbs for weight loss treatments

Summary

Saffron is an ancient and expensive herb. It comprises some antioxidant compounds, which might lower the risk of certain chronic conditions associated with oxidative stress.  It's been associated with health benefits, such as improved mood, libido, and sexual function, in addition to reduced PMS symptoms and enhanced weight loss. It is generally categorized as safe for most people and easy to improve your diet. Saffron is a spice with a distinctive color and intense fragrance. The spice is also full of antioxidants, which may have many health benefits. Early evidence indicates that saffron may boost mood, increase libido, and combat oxidative anxiety. Saffron is usually safe for most people to eat, and it's easy to add it to your diet.

See: Herbs For Diabetes That Lower Blood Sugar

References

1. Hosseinzadeh H. Saffron: a herbal medicine of the third millennium. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. 2014;9(1):1-2. PMID: 24644431

2. Moshiri M, Vahabzadeh M, Hosseinzadeh H. Clinical Applications of Saffron (Crocus sativus) and its Constituents: A Review. Drug Res (Stuttg). 2015;65(6):287-95. DOI: 10.1055/s-0034-1375681

3. Akhondzadeh S, Sabet MS, Harirchian MH et al. Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther 2010; 35: 581-58837.

4. Lashay Alireza, et al. Short-term Outcomes of Saffron Supplementation in Patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration: A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Randomized Trial. Med Hypothesis Discov Innov Ophthalmol. 2016 Spring; 5(1): 32–38.

5. Maleki-Saghooni N, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on saffron (Crocus sativus) effectiveness and safety on erectile dysfunction and semen parameters. Avicenna J Phytomed. May-Jun;8(3):198-209.

6. Agha-hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, et al. Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG. 2008;115(4):515-9. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2007.01652.x

7. Abedimanesh, N., et al. (2017). Saffron and crocin improved appetite, dietary intakes, and body composition in patients with coronary artery disease.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5787332/

8. Adalier, N., & Parker, H. (2016). Vitamin E, turmeric, and saffron in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5187538/

9. Talaei A, Hassanpour moghadam M, Sajadi tabassi SA, Mohajeri SA. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015;174:51-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.11.035

10. Shahmansouri N, Farokhnia M, Abbasi SH, et al. A randomized, double-blind, clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with fluoxetine for improving mild to moderate depression in post percutaneous coronary intervention patients. J Affect Disord. 2014;155:216-22. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.11.003

11. Gjørup I, Gjørup T, Andersen B. Serum selenium and zinc concentrations in morbid obesity. Comparison of controls and patients with jejunoileal bypass. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1988;23(10):1250-2.

12. Gohari AR, et al. An overview of saffron, phytochemicals, and medicinal properties. Pharmacogn Rev. 2013 Jan-Jun; 7(13): 61–66.

13. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Nov;29(6):517-27.

14. Moshiri, M., et al. (2015). Clinical applications of saffron (Crocus sativus) and its constituents: A review. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0034-1375681

15. Poma, A., et al. (2012). Anti-inflammatory properties of drugs from saffron crocus [Abstract]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22934747/

16. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, Inarejos-Garcia AM, Prodanov M.affron®, a standardized extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018 May;232:349-357.

17. Gout B, Bourges C, Paineau-Dubreuil S. Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women. Nutr Res. 2010 May;30(5):305-13.

18. Broadhead GK, Grigg JR, Mccluskey P, Hong T, Schlub TE, Chang AA. Saffron therapy for the treatment of mild/moderate age-related macular degeneration: a randomized clinical trial. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2019;257(1):31-40. DOI: 10.1007/s00417-018-4163-x

19. Ettehadi, H., et al. (2013). Aqueous extract of saffron (Crocus sativus) increases brain dopamine and glutamate concentrations in rats. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mina_Ranjbaran2/publication/260080975_Aqueous_Extract_of_Saffron_Crocus_sativus_Increases_Brain_Dopamine_and_Glutamate_Concentrations_in_Rats/links/54a3d9ab0cf267bdb904868c/Aqueous-Extract-of-Saffron-Crocus-sativus-Increases-Brain-Dopamine-and-Glutamate-Concentrations-in-Rats.pdf

20. Hooker, L. (2017). The problem for the world’s most expensive spice. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41110151

21. Kashani, L., et al. (2012). Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine‐induced sexual dysfunction in women: Randomized double‐blind placebo‐controlled study.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hup.2282

22. Khazdair, M. R., et al. (2015). The effects of Crocus sativus (saffron) and its constituents on the nervous system: A review.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4599112/

23. Maleki-saghooni, N., et al. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on saffron (Crocus sativus) effectiveness and safety on erectile dysfunction and semen parameters.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987435/

24. Mollazadeh, H., et al. (2015). Razi’s Al-Hawi and saffron (Crocus sativus): A review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4744354/

25. Samarghandian, S., & Borji, A. (2014). Anticarcinogenic effect of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and its ingredients.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3996758/

26. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170934/nutrients

See: Bacopa benefits, memory boosting herb for anxiety

Get a Consultation
(650) 539-4545
Get more information via email