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Saffron Crocus
Crocus sativus

Type Categories Useful Parts


Iridaceae Family

Crocus Genus
Other Names for this Plant

Saffron, Kum Kuma, Zaffran, Kesar, Autumn crocus, Spanish saffron, dyer's saffron, thistle saffron, bastard saffron, parrot's corn, American saffron


The native home of Crocus sativus is uncertain but is thought to be Asia Minor. Found mainly in the Mediterranean region, but

ranges as far east as Afghanistan.

Physical Description
Saffron is a small perennial plant, which is cultivated in many places, but particularly in France, Spain, Sicily, and Iran. In springtime, an onion-like corm produces basal, linear leaves, which are surrounded as a group at the bottom by cylindrical sheaths. These gray-green leaves have hairy margins and grow to about 1 or1-1/2 feet feet long. About August or September, the corm produces a funnel-shaped, reddish-purple (sometimes lilac or white) flower.

General Information

The history of saffron cultivation reaches back more than 3,000 years. The wild precursor of domesticated saffron crocus was Crocus cartwrightianus. Human cultivators bred wild specimens by selecting for unusually long stigmas. Thus, a sterile mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, C. sativus, emerged in late Bronz Age Crete. Experts believe saffron was first documented in a 7th century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Since then, documentation of saffron's use over the span of 4,000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered.

Medicinal Uses: Saffron has been used, in small doses only, for coughs, whooping cough, stomach gas, gastrointestinal colic, and insomnia. As an ingredient in herb liqueurs, it serves as a stimulant to appetite; and it is sometimes made into a salve for treatment of gout.

Saffron is used in sedatives, as an antispasmodic and for flatulence. It is also used in perfumes and dyes.

Saffron is used in small doses, in fevers, melancholia, enlargement of the liver, and asthma. Saffron is also useful for treating anemia, chlorosis, and seminal debility.

Saffron is considered to be a sovereign remedy, not to be excelled in virtue by any other drug as a stimulant and aphrodisiac.

Food Uses: Although not widely used, Saffron is nevertheless a crucial ingredient in certain dishes. Many Spanish dishes, in particular paella, require Saffron. Saffron is also used in bouillabaisse and to color and flavor rice

The flower styles are commonly used as a flavouring and yellow colouring for various foods such as bread, soups, sauces, rice and puddings. They are an essential ingredient of many traditional dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse, risotto milanese and various other Italian dishes. The styles are extremely rich in riboflavin. Water soluble. Yields per plant are extremely low, about 4000 stigmas yield 25g of saffron. Saffron is the world's most expensive spice, it takes 150,000 flowers and 400 hours work to produce 1 kilo of dried saffron. About 25 kilos of styles can be harvested from a hectare of the plant. Fortunately, only very small quantities of the herb are required to impart their color and flavor to dishes. Because of the cost, saffron is frequently adulterated with cheaper substitutes such as marigold flowers and safflower. The flower styles are used as a tea substitute.

Other Notes: The King James Version (Authorized)… Song of Solomon 4:14… “Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices”

Saffron was listed among many aromatic plants in a scroll of cuneiform from the great library at Nineveh. The library at Nineveh was established by King Ashurbanipal of Assyria (668-633 B.C.E.).

Saffron was one of the ingredients mentioned in the Eber’s Papyrus

Saffron Crocus
Koehlers Medicinal-Plants 1887 [Image in Public Domain]

Comment: Saffron Crocus, Crocus sativus

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