Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the Crocus sativus plant, a relative of the lily. It is primarily used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. However, saffron has numerous health benefits as well. In addition to its known benefits it is well-known for being one of the most expensive spices in the world due to the labor-intensive extraction process.
The cultivation and use of saffron started more than 3,500 years ago. Currently, saffron is primarily produced in Iran, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Kashmir, and Italy. Iran is perhaps the most prolific producer of saffron, both in terms of volume and quality. Spain is the largest importer of the spice.
Saffron has long been traded and used across many continents, and is a traditional medicine for numerous health conditions. There are several recorded instances where saffron has been used successfully for a multitude of ailments. For example; ancient Egyptian healers were known to use the spice for treating various gastrointestinal disorders.
Compiled below are five of the most incredible health benefits of this amazing spice.
- It helps protect against cancer.
Saffron contains a form of carotene called crocin which is also responsible for its dark orange color. Studies have shown that crocin triggers apoptosis (programmed cell death) in several types of malignant cells, including general cancers, leukemia, and soft-tissue sarcoma. Not only does saffron apparently inhibit these cancerous cells, but it seems to have no adverse effect on healthy cells. In fact, it appears to work to stimulate the formation of more healthy cells as well as the formation of lymphocytes which are cells that help destroy malignant ones.
- It aids in the treatment of arthritis.
One study found that another form of carotene found in saffron, crocetin, can increase cerebral oxygenation. This allows it to also facilitate the positive treatment of arthritic conditions. In addition, one variety of saffron known as “meadow saffron” has been shown to be effective in relieving gout. However, most health professionals advise against saffron use by elderly patients with liver, kidney, and/or bone marrow disorders as well as by pregnant women.
- It can improve vision.
Several studies have shown that some of the compounds found in saffron can help to prevent general vision degradation as well as preventing retinal degeneration. One study found that safranal, one of the aforementioned compounds, can preserve visual response, photoreceptor morphology (the mechanism in the eyes that helps to study the forms of things you see), and the capillary network in the eyes.
In addition, patients who were given a saffron supplement showed improvement in macular thickness which can significantly improve retinal function. Saffron has also been found to prevent photoreceptor damage caused by chronic oxidative injury.
- It boosts brain health.
Several studies have shown saffron to be effective in treating various learning and memory impairments. In one study, 30 milligrams of saffron was administered every day to patients with Alzheimer’s Disease , and significant improvement was shown.
In addition, saffron has been shown to have antidepressant effects as well, making it a promising alternative therapy for people suffering from various depressive disorders. Studies have shown saffron to improve mood, lessen neurotoxic effects and even increase the production of crucial neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate. Researchers have found that saffron may improve memory as well.
- It has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.
Several studies have shown the safranal found in saffron also acts as a mild sedative. This, in turn, causes saffron to be helpful in relieving pain as well as reducing anxiety and stress. Research has shown as well that saffron can improve sleeping patterns by inducing relaxation and soothing the mind and body.
→ If chronic pain or inflammation is a concern for you, consider adding a CBD supplement to your treatment regimen.
Saffron is rich in many essential vitamins and nutrients, making it a vital component of any healthy diet. Below is the nutritional content for 10 grams of saffron:
- Calories: 31 kcal
- Carbohydrates: 6.5 grams
- Protein: 1.1 grams
- Total fat: 0.6 grams
- Dietary fiber: 0.4 grams
- Vitamin C: 13.5% RDA
- Potassium: 3.7% RDA
- Iron: 14% RDA
- Magnesium: 6.6% RDA
- Manganese: 123.5% RDA
How to Use It
For culinary purposes, you can use saffron either in thread or powder form depending on the recipe and aesthetic desires. For example, some recipes call for powdered saffron to be added to enhance the flavor and aroma of the dish. Other recipes simply call for a saffron garnish, in which case just a few threads can be used.
In the case of saffron supplements, one typically finds it either in powdered or capsule form. The powder can also be dissolved in warm or boiling water to make a liquid form. Simply add the powder to a small amount of hot water and allow it to infuse for five to 10 minutes.
Saffron has shown to be harmful for pregnant women and can even induce miscarriages. Some research shows it might be harmful for women who are breastfeeding as well. In addition, saffron may be harmful for people with low blood pressure as it tends to lower blood pressure even further. It can also affect heart rate, so individuals with heart conditions should be aware. Lastly, be sure to be mindful of the dosage you are consuming, as saffron can be severely detrimental and even lethal in large doses.
Always consult your doctor before adding anything to your treatment regimen.
Saffron, while typically thought to only serve as a spice to enhance the flavor profile of food also has numerous health benefits. From anti-inflammatory properties to boosting brain health, saffron can be used for many medicinal applications. Now that you’ve seen first hand how saffron can improve your health, consider supplementing your diet with this amazing spice.