Saffron Cures All That Ails You

Or does it? According to WebMD, saffron is used to treat asthma, cough, insomnia, hardening of the arteries, gas, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, fright, shock, pain, heartburn, dry skin, infertility, baldness etc. - though it’s proven to be only "possibly effective" for just a few of these ailments. For the most part there’s insufficient evidence of saffron’s cure-all properties. However, research is being conducted into its anti-carcinogenic potential. We’re definitely staying tuned.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower Crocus sativus. Saffron is the hand-picked then dried stigma of the crocus. Each flower has three stigmas. The styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to the plant, also are used but not as a spice - rather as a coloring agent. Saffron contains a dye called crocin, which is what gives dishes (and textiles) that signature golden hue.

Saffron has always been among the world’s most expensive spices by weight. It’s hand-picked after all! It’s native to Greece and Southwest Asia. Saffron pigments feature in cave art from 50,000 years ago. It’s been traded for over four millennia. The Sumerians put it in remedies and magical potions. The ancient Persians sewed it into textiles and used it in perfumes and teas to cure depression. It was rumored at the time that the Persians used saffron as an aphrodisiac too. Alexander the Great soaked in saffron baths to cure his battle wounds. Saffron reached South Asia by 500 BC if not much earlier. It’s mentioned in Chinese medical texts from the third century BC.

Fast-forward to today. Iran accounts for over 90% of the world’s saffron production. One pound of saffron, which costs $5,000!!!!, requires harvesting nearly 75,000 flowers. Picking stigmas from 150,000 flowers takes 40 hours. The stigmas are then dried and sealed in airtight containers. Check out this informative post on what makes saffron so costly.

So if you wanna be a high-roller this week, order the Spring Chicken Scallopini over Veggie Orzo with a Saffron Mushroom Wine Sauce. We’re opening our saffron vaults to make this rich (in more ways than one) and delicious dish.

And now for some fun stuff:

  • Fernet Branca, the Italian bitter spirit, known as an amaro or digestivo, contains saffron. That gives it its characteristic bite. It’s estimated that Fernet uses 75% of the world’s saffron and controls the global market. Wow.
  • According to ancient Greek myth, Krokus was a young man who was transformed into a flower because of his unfulfilled love for a nymph called Smilax; Smilax became the vine smilax, known in the U.S. as sarsaparilla.

Rose McCarthy
Rose McCarthy