Saffron – from the Arabic word ‘Zaffran’ which translates to ‘yellow’ – is a valuable spice that is mainly grown in Iran, Spain, India, Greece, Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Italy. M.Kafi noted in his book, Saffron (Crocus Sativus) Production and Processing, Science Publishers 2006, 23, that “Cultivation of Saffron in Iran dates back to before Christ.” This plant is believed to have been cultivated in Palestine during prophet Solomon. And apparently taken from Jerusalem to England during the time of Jesus. But at present it is appreciated worldwide for its bright yellow, bordering on orange color, its unique smell, and its mildly bitter taste.
Greek mythology attributes the history of saffron to the story of Crocus – a young man who fell in love with an attractive nymph – Smilax. Upon witnessing the death of Smilax, he transformed into the purple flower – crocus. There’s another twist where the story claims that Smilax became bored with Crocus’ attention and turned him into the flower.
Saffron is harvested from the crocus sativus. It takes about 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound of saffron in is a highly labor-intensive process. This flower is of dark lilac or violet to purple and the plant is about 20 to 30cm tall. Each flower has three stigmas.
Saffron’s Medicinal Values
This expensive spice has appeared in main dishes and desserts since the medieval time. In Ancient Greek, it was noted that Cleopatra used saffron for its cosmetic properties.
Saffron is also well known for its medicinal merits. It’s used successfully in Indian, Chinese, Unani and Western medicine.
In India, saffron is used in Ayurvedic treatment. It’s known to help with acne, apoplexy, colic, cough, asthma, arthritis and even to improve weak eyesight. Saffron ground to a paste is used as dressing for bruises and sores.
In China, the usage of saffron is associated with the heart and liver health. Its functions include invigoration of the blood, to remove stagnation, clear meridians and to release toxins. Saffron is also used to break blood clogs and soothe lumbar pain during menstruation.
In Unani medicine, saffron acts as the diuretic when soaked in water overnight and taken with a touch of honey. And when pounded with ghee, it helps diabetes patients with their blood sugar control.
In western culture, saffron is used to increase appetite or to stimulate metabolism. Also known to ease headaches and hangover.
Saffron in Recipes
Although used widely in Mediterranean and Oriental dishes, saffron is finding its way more and more into modern western cuisine.
Saffron is added unique, exotic flavor and color to many dishes including the Italian paella and risotto, French fish dish – bouillabaisse, Indian curry, and desserts and it’s also used to color butter, cheese, and certain puddings.
It’s vital to note that if used excessively, saffron can be detrimental. It causes miscarriage if consumed by pregnant women. Those who are on blood thinning medication
or women who have heavy menstrual cycles should not take saffron since it breaks up blood clots. Symptoms of saffron poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness.
Simple Saffron-Butternut squash soup recipe
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
One large butternut squash
One can of coconut milk
Four cups homemade/organic chicken broth
5 to 10
A thumb-sized piece of ginger
Soak saffron in coconut milk overnight in the refrigerator.
Cut butternut squash into four large pieces, place them skin side up on a baking tray and bake at 350 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes. Leave to cool.
Peel the skin off the butternut squash and place the squash in a food processor.
Add ginger and grind until smooth.
In a pot, add the saffron and coconut milk to the pureed squash and chicken broth.
Bring to a simmer.
Salt to taste and serve – hot or chilled.