Alicante Saffron, Autumn Crocus,
Crocus, Gatinais Saffron, Hay Saffron, Karcom, Spanish
Saffron, Stigma Croci; Valencia Saffron, Zaffer;
Safran (German); safran
(French); zafferano (Italian); azafrán (Spanish); kesar,
kesram, khesa, zuffron, shahi zafran (Indian); kungumappa
(Tamil); kunyit kering (Malaysian); saffraan (Dutch);
açafrão (Portuguese); saffron (Swedish); fan-hung-hua, zang
hong hua (Chinese); safuran (Japanese); za’farãn,
Za'fran, Za'tar (Arabic); Kumkuma (Sanskrit); Zafora (Greek);
(Amharic); Kerkoom, Kerkum (Armenian); Jafran (Assamese);
Jafran, Jaffran, Keshar (Bengali); Shafran (Bulgarian);
It is a perennial plant, with a
rounded bulb and leaves longer than the ciliate flowers.
The flower, which opens in
autumn, is formed of six lilac-colored sepals and with
orange-red clavate stigmas, longer than the stamens
protruding from the lobes of the perigonium.
What makes saffron so rare and
precious is its method of production.
It is the orange-red
stigmas of a violet-colored crocus which blooms for only a
brief two-week period in autumn. Each flower has only three
stigmas which must be picked by hand at dawn before the sun
becomes hot. The flowers are discarded and the stigmas are
then dried, losing 80% of their weight in this process,
which also intensifies saffron’s characteristic flavor. The
result is that it takes a staggering 200,000-400,000 stigmas
to make only 2 lb of saffron.
Because of this, some have
been tempted to adulterate pure saffron.
saffron still abounds, especially in powdered form.
Thus it is always best to
buy strands which should be bright-orange without any white
streaks or light patches.
Pure saffron is always
expensive, so be wary of anything which is cheap.
Saffron is propagated from
It is a perennial in zones
Germination is in 8-10
Soil temperature should be
Soil: well drained, sandy,
fertile, but not too rich.
Low rainfall is best.
pH should be 6-7.8.
Plant corms 3-4 inches
deep in spring or early summer.
It is easy to grow in
sunny, well-drained positions and can survive well in tiny,
It grows best in warm
sub-tropical climates that are able to provide a growing
season of at least 6 months.
However, it also grows
very well in moderate, cool climates, provided the growing
season is long. Photoperiod is important for saffron, a
short-day plant requiring 11 hours of light/day for
Although, in theory, the
plants can last for 15 years, they should be moved every 2-3
years after flowering and replanted since they progressively
work their way deeper in the soil, taking longer to flower
and weakening the plant.
Lift and divide them after
the foliage dies back in the spring, then store in a cool,
dry place for several weeks before replanting.
They are susceptible to
Pick when flower
Dry stigmas between papers
in oven or over charcoal.
Saffron has a strong
perfume and a bitter, honey-like taste, which when added to
dishes in pinches, should lend a delicate but distinctive
When suffusing a pinch of
saffron in a cup of warm water, the stigmas should expand at
once, their color diffusing the water.
Today it is cultivated on
a large scale only in
and in 7 of
Spain’s 52 provinces.
Austria, China (Tibet), Italy, Iran, Greece, Switzerland and Turkey produce
only enough for domestic consumption and very limited
Rare and almost as precious as
gold, men have risked their lives for it.
Known since prehistoric
times, it is thought to have come from Greece and Asia Minor since it was used in ancient Greece and Rome and in biblical
A Chinese medical book
from 2600 BC contains the oldest known reference to saffron.
Saffron is the “Karcom” of
the Hebrews in Song of Solomon. It was almost certainly
introduced to Europe
by the Arabs in the 10th century—although legend
has it that the Phoenicians took it to
Spain, now the country
principally associated with its production.
The use of saffron has
traditionally relied on societies with a cultured
aristocracy able to appreciate its culinary advantages and a
slave or peasant class, capable of carrying out its
labor-intensive production—hence its widespread use under
the Roman, Ottoman and Mogul empires and its relative
decline in recent times.
The Romans used it to
strew paths and roads literally creating a golden carpet for
emperors and princes and it said that when Alexander the
Great’s soldiers entered the Vale of Kashmir, they found the
saffron crocus growing in great profusion and were so wild
with joy that they broke ranks.
Saffron was smuggled into
by a pilgrim, who returning from Spain, hid a crocus head in his
palmer’s staff, risking death since this Spanish treasure
was zealously guarded by law.
Saffron Walden in Essex became the center of its cultivation in England.
By the end of the 18th
century its cultivation had all but died out in northern
Europe, although it was introduced to
where production continues to this day.
Saffron is from the Arab
word assfar or zafaran,
yellow, while the generic name is derived from the Latin and
Greek names for the plant,
The saffron crocus has
long been associated, especially in the East, with fertility
and harvest rites, with physical strength, sexual, and
psychic powers and with royalty.
In Greek mythology, Hermes
accidentally wounded and killed his friend Crocos. As blood
spilled onto the ground, remorseful Hermes turned the drops
into the saffron crocus. Another myth tells how the saffron
crocus sprang from the warmth of Jove’s body where he had
lain with Juno on Mount Ida.
A third legend goes that
saffron is the child Krokos, who accidentally slain by a
quoit flung from the hand of Mercury, was dipped into
celestial dew and changed into a ravishing flower. They say
that crocodiles were named after the crocus because the only
sincere tears they ever shed were forced by the beautiful
fragrance of the saffron crocus.
Irish women believed that
saffron-dyed sheets would strengthen the limbs of those who
slept between them.
Because of its expense, saffron
was employed by those wishing to flaunt their wealth.
In the first century A.D.,
Nero had saffron sprinkled on the streets of
for his entry into the city.
Tiny bits of saffron have
been found in Egyptian mummies.
Medieval scribes burnished
saffron upon foil for use in illuminated manuscripts in the
same manner that gold was used for the purpose.
It came to be viewed as
capable of reviving spirits.
It was even put in
canaries’ drinking water so that they would sing more
Because of the value of
saffron, it is called “red gold” in
Ladies risked the wrath of
the fathers of the early Christian Church by using saffron
to give their hair a yellow tint.
In Ireland, it used to be believed that
saffron had a sanitizing effect, and so it was thought
unnecessary to frequently launder clothes that were dyed
King Henry the VIII banned
the Irish from dyeing their linen with saffron to encourage
them to wash their linen more frequently.
Saffron is still
important in India today,
both in rituals and in food.
A saffron paste-mark
called tillak on
the forehead is a mark of grace, beneficence and good luck.
Ayurveda considers the
gloom-dispersing property of saffron to be so potent in
restoring animal spirits that it even recommends infusing a
few threads of saffron in drinking water to be given “to
caged birds when they are molting or otherwise sickly.”
carminative, emmenagogic and sedative.
Its diaphoretic action is
strongest with children.
The stigmas constitute the
commercial product, which contains a bitter principle
(picrocrocin), a glycoside from which is liberated safranal
(which gives the aroma) and the carotenoid crocin, and
crocon, which is the dye, is so powerful a coloring agent
that one part pure crocin dissolved in 150,000 parts water
turns the water distinctively yellow.
Also contains lycopene,
xanthophyll, seaxanthin, and yellow alpha-, beta- and
one teaspoon saffron has 2 calories.
It provides 0.1 g protein,
a trace of fat, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 1 mg calcium and 0.08
spicy, sweet, bitter, neutral
spleen, heart, liver,
Saffron has been cited as a
remedy for such diverse ills.
In England and the
penny packets of saffron threads were sold as recently as 50
years ago in pharmacies to cure measles.
Cheaper and superior herbs
are easily found to replicate its ability to induce
menstruation, treat period pain and chronic uterine bleeding
and calm indigestion and colic.
Contains a blood pressure-lowering chemical called crocetin.
Some authorities even
speculate that the low incidence of heart disease in Spain
is due to that nation’s high saffron consumption.
It is one of the finest
blood vitalizers known.
inflammatory conditions associated with excess pitta (fire),
while at the same time powerfully stimulating the
circulation and regulating the spleen, liver and heart. It
is very sattvic or spiritually balancing and gives “the
energy of love, devotion and compassion.
The flowers are collected
in the early mornings and taken indoors where the stigmas
are removed, and dried over a slow heat.
Stigmas are used to enrich
blood; help blood circulation; hasten eruption of measles;
treat irregular menstruation, absence of menstruation,
bleeding after labor, asthma, whooping cough, convulsions.
For menstrual pain: 2 cups
of tea per day, taken in the afternoon, and made by boiling
1 gram of threads in 1 liter of water for 10 minutes.
To make a cough syrup: 5
grams of threads should be steeped in 1 liter of hot water
with 2.2 pounds of sugar for 30 minutes.
Recommended dosage is 2-4
teaspoons per day.
CAUTION: In very large
doses, saffron may induce abortion.
During pregnancy, take
only in amounts normally used in cooking.
In Chinese herbal medicine, saffron stigmas are occasionally
used to treat painful obstructions of the chest, to
stimulate menstruation and to relieve abdominal pain.
They regard it as a
catalyst to be combined with other herbs.
Moves blood; eliminates
blood stasis; cools blood, expels toxins; resoves depression
and stagnation of Liver qi.
Gender: Hot; Planet: Sun;
Element: Fire; Basic Powers: Purification, clairvoyance,
Make a tea and use to
cleanse the hands before healing rituals.
Burn the herb as a healing
incense and add to healing mixtures. Drink the tea to induce
Sometimes used to raise
the winds, by throwing it into the air from high places, or
by burning it and watching the smoke rise into the air.
The use of saffron as a
face mask to remove pimples and soothe rashes was limited to
royal women or women from the houses of wealthy aristocrats
A paste made from saffron
on the face and the and exposed parts of the body was
applied much as foundation makeup is used by women today.
Not only did this saffron
paste impart a smoothness to a woman’s skin, it also gave
the skin a golden tint, which was thought to be so desirable
that pregnant women even drank saffron infused in milk in
the hopes that their unborn infants would acquire golden
Its fragrance was thought
to have an aphrodisiac effect on the senses of a lover.
HAIR COLORANT: immerse a
pinch of saffron grains in 1 pint of boiling water and let
stand for 10 minutes. The water will take on a bright yellow
Use a wash after
shampooing and let dry on.
Fair hair will acquire a
rich golden tint
Body Lotion: Melt over a low flame 1
cupful of olive oil and one of almond oil and add a pinch of
saffron, stirring until the mixture is completely blended
and has attained a rich yellow color.
Pour into bottles and use
after bathing or swimming, to massage gently into all parts
of the body after drying.
Saffron produces a colorful,
although unstable, golden yellow cloth dye.
In medieval days, wealthy
women dyed their hair with saffron and monks mixed it with
egg white glue making a golden yellow, transparent coloring
to illuminate manuscripts.
To dye: use the stigmas
plucked in early fall out of the open flowers and dry
between layers of paper.
Saffron should be boiled
gently for half an hour, then wool should be simmered until
the required color is obtained.
Silk should be steeped at
There are differing
estimates of the amount of flowers needed to produce a
specific amount of saffron.
About 88,000 is needed to
make a pound.
Alum as a mordant will
give yellow to wool and silk.
Saffron is mainly found in Middle
Eastern, Mediterranean and north Indian cookery, although it
is used to a limited extent in north Indian cookery,
although it is used to a limited extent in cakes and buns in
It combines perfectly with
all kinds of rice dishes from succulent Italian risottos to
the perfumed pilaus and puddings of India and the Middle East.
Mediterranean, it blends particularly well with
fish and seafood.
It is an essential
ingredient in the Provencal fish stew, bouillabaisse, and is
used to advantage in a paella, a fragrant mix of seafood and
Things to remember: ½
teaspoon of threads is
adequate for 4-8 servings of most dishes; powdered saffron
is about 3 X as strong as thread saffron; do not use wooden
utensils unless the wood is polished; when working with
threads, avoid wire whisks; steep saffron before you begin
other prep work; powdered saffron will only release in
chilled butter—room temperature will not work because it
does not provide resistance to work against to release
saffron’s color and flavor; for baking, grilling & morning
toast, saffron butter can be made ahead and stored in the
refrigerator for at least a week; a pinch means at least 1/
2 teaspoon of threads; or maximum flavor, do not strain off
saffron threads after steeping.
When you buy saffron,
Spanish threads which have been stored airtight away from
the light, have been cured properly and come from healthy
plants are dry, deep red, unbroken and strongly aromatic.
It should immediately
begin releasing an intense yellow-orange when strands are
immersed in hot liquid, alcohol, vinegar, rose water or
If your saffron releases a
blue or red dye, you are working with adulterated saffron.
½ cup olive oil
2 chicken pieces
lean pork, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
2 red peppers, sliced
8 oz chorizo sausage, sliced
8 oz peeled tomatoes
16 mussels scrubbed and bearded
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb long-grain rice
3 cups chicken stock
a pinch of saffron, infused in a
cup of stock for 15 minutes
4 oz French green beans, cut in 1
4 oz peas, shelled or frozen
8 large uncooked shrimp
8 cooked shrimp
Heat the oil in a large,
heavy-based frying pan. Brown the chicken pieces and pork.
Remove them and keep to
one side. Sauté the onion, garlic and peppers and cook for
about 10 minutes or until soft. Add the tomatoes and chorizo
sausage and simmer for a few minutes before returning the
chicken and pork pieces to the pan. Cook gently for about 15
Add the mussels and
simmer, covered, until the mussels open.
Add the rice, stirring
into the mixture.
Add the infused saffron
and the remaining stock..
to the boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, adding the
beans and peas after 10 minutes and the uncooked shrimp
after 15 minutes.
At the end of the cooking
time, turn off the heat, garnish with shrimp and leave,
covered, for 3-4 minute before serving.
1/20 of a gram of saffron
Infuse the saffron in the
gin for five minutes.
Add a drop of the sherry
and shake with plenty of ice.
Substitute a single
saffron filament for the usual olive (The Essential Saffron
Tea with Spices
tsp green tea
3 cardamom pods
1/ 2 stick cinnamon
small slice fresh ginger
pinch of saffron
1/ 2 tsp ground almonds
water for a 4 cup teapot.
Bring all the ingredients
to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
Pour through a strainer.
(The Spices of Life)
The Complete Book of Herbs, Spices and Condiments,
Carol Ann Rinzler, Facts on File, 1990; ISBN: 0-8160-2008-6
Cooking with Spices,
Carolyn Heal & Michael Allsop, David & Charles, 1983;
Creative Cooking with Spices,
Jane Walker, Chartwell, 1985; ISBN: 1-55521-016-3
Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices,
Linda Fraser (editor); Anness Publishing, 1997; ISBN:
The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices & Flavorings,
Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, Dorling Kinderseley, 1992; ISBN:
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants,
Andrew Chevallier, Dorling Kindersley, 1997; ISBN:
The Essential Saffron Companion,
John Humphries, 10 Speed Press, 1996; ISBN: 1-58008-024-3
Exotic Spices, Rosamond Richardson, Salem House, 1985; ISBN: 0-88162-161-7
of Life, Naveen Patnaik, Doubleday, 1993; ISBN:
The Gourmet Garden,
Geraldene Holt, 1990; Bullfinch Press,
Green Pharmacy, James A. Duke, Rodale, 1997; ISBN:
The Herb & Spice Cookbook,
Sheryl & Mel London, Rodale, 1986; ISBN: 0-87857-641-X
The Herbal Epicure, Carole Ottesen, Ballantine, 2001; ISBN:
An Illustrated Dictionary of
Chinese Medicinal Herbs,
Wee Yeow Chin & Hsuan Keng, 1992; CRCS Publications; ISBN:
The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia,
Kathi Keville, Mallard Press, 1991; ISBN: 0-7924-5307-7
The Macmillan Treasury of Spices & Natural Flavorings,
Jennifer Mulherin, Macmillan, 1988; ISBN: 0-02-587850-6
Magical Herbalism, Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn, 1982; ISBN:
Simon & Schuster’s
Guide to Herbs and Spices,
Editor: Stanley Schuler, Fireside Books, 1990: ISBN:
The Spices of Life,
Troth Wells, Second Story Press, 1996; ISBN: 0-929005-02-3
Wild About Saffron,
Ellen Szita, Saffron Rose, 1987,
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