Saffron is a reddish-golden colored spice derived from the styles and stigmas of the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Used primarily as a seasoning agent for cooking and a coloring agent, Saffron also has numerous health benefits that make it one of nature’s most powerful herbs.
The saffron crocus is native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia. It has long been the most expensive spice in the world by weight, ten times more costly than vanilla. The reason saffron carries a hefty price tag is that its production is extremely labor intensive. It takes 80,000 crocus flowers to make only 500 grams of saffron after toasting. Despite its cost, many herbalists and natural health enthusiasts consider saffron’s health benefits to be worth their weight in gold.
In ancient cultures, saffron was used to relieve stomachaches and kidney stones and also as an agent in improving the circulation of blood. Saffron’s healing effects were also recognized in the US long ago and some grandmothers still mix a few sprigs of saffron in hot milk for their grandchildren to drink. Today, saffron is used for a wide variety of health conditions and many of its benefits have been validated by scientific studies.
Saffron contains a number of carotenoids, which are believed to be largely responsible for a number of saffron’s health benefits, including inhibiting skin tumors, improving arthritis and improving eye and vision health. In a recent trial, every participant who took saffron had vision improvements and researchers said the aromatic herb “may hold the key to preventing the loss of sight in the elderly”. Notably, saffron has been reported to significantly helping vision in the instance of cataracts.
Saffron also contains the compound “crocin”, which scientists believe to be the primary compound responsible for recent study results, which found saffron promotes learning, memory retention, and recall capacity. Based on the early study results, scientists believe that saffron might be useful in the treatment and management of age related mental impairment.
Among the multiple health benefits of saffron are the treatment of asthma, menstrual discomfort, depression, atherosclerosis, whooping cough, and many other health problems. Some studies have also indicated that saffron may also have anti-cancer properties as well.
The active constituents in saffron are also known to produce positive effects on people with neurodegenerative disorders. In addition, massaging the gums with saffron helps in reduce soreness and inflammation of the mouth and the tongue.
Some other health benefits of saffron are:
- Medical studies have shown that saffron helps in enhancing oxygen diffusivity in plasma and other liquids while improving pulmonary oxygenation.
- It also helps to lower the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Saffron can be applied topically as a paste to relieve dryness and other skin conditions.
- Saffron has also been used in combination with other herbs as a remedy for insomnia, coughing, flatulence, indigestion, and baldness
Due to the handsome prices it demands, there are many adulterated and fake products being dyed to imitate saffron. To determine whether or not you have bought is fake or adulterated, immerse a bit of the product in warm water or milk. If the liquid colors immediately, then the saffron is fake. Genuine saffron must soak in either warm water or milk for at least 10 to 15 minutes before its deep red-gold color and the saffron aroma begin to develop.
If used as a food additive, avoid using too much. Too much can give foods a bitter, medicinal taste.
When using saffron in supplement form, be sure to not exceed recommended dosages.
By Tony Isaacs on 01/30/2011