Saffron are the dried stamens of the Crocus plant (Crocus satius L.), one of the rarest medicinal plants. It is a bulbous herb that is found in South East Europe and Western Asia, while many species grow wild in Greece. It is considered a plant with prominent antioxidant, antithrombotic and anticancer properties. Systematic cultivation is done in Kozani region in Greece, where according to laboratory measurements, gives high quality production. Saffron comes from the thin, orange-red stamens of the purple plant flowers, which bloom in the fall. The fact that saffron is among the world’s most expensive spice is justified both by the lengthy and demanding process of collecting, processing and drying of the stamens and partly to the large amount of flowers required to obtain the finished product. More than 150,000 crocus flowers are needed for 1 kg of dried stamens.
In Greek mythology, God Hermes, while he was practicing in the discus throw, hit his mortal friend Crocus badly in the head. His sadness was so great that decided to grant him immortality, transforming his friend’s lifeless body into a beautiful purple flower and his blood in three red stamens in the heart of the flower. The amazing properties of this plant have been known since antiquity. The ancient Greeks ate saffron to combat insomnia and unpleasant effects of drunkenness, while Hippocrates, Dioscurides and Galen used crocus as a key ingredient in various medicinal preparations and recommend it as a painkiller, antipyretic, hypnotic, healing and aphrodisiac.
Saffron has been identified by researchers as the elixir of longevity thanks to its healing properties. Traditionally, it has been used for the relief of stomach pain, digestive problems and even depression, while scientists highlight the antioxidant and anti-cancer properties, the effect on leukemic cells, the anti-aging effect, its positive effect on neuroprotection in combating stress, its contribution to enhance learning and memory.
The dried stamens have as basic components crocetin and crocin, which is responsible for their color, picrocrocin, which is responsible for their taste and safranal, which is a main component of the aromatic ethereal oil. These components are carotenoids and their derivatives, which have potent antioxidant properties. Their action is considered extremely valuable because it strengthens the body’s defenses against free radicals, which in turn have been associated with skin aging, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes mellitus and many other problems. Moreover, crocus contains significant quantities of vitamins (A, C, folic acid, B6, niacin, riboflavin) and iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Their basc macronutrient ingredient is carbohydrates, while it contains a small amount of protein, a small amount of fat and has no cholesterol. 2 g. of crocus, representing a teaspoon, give us 7 calories.
Their content of B vitamins helps improve brain function and enhance memory. Scientists believe that the combination of vitamins and antioxidants in saffron can protect from senile dementia and the degenerative Alzheimer’s disease.
Saffron can act as a shield for the heart, as animal studies have shown that it helps to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, thereby preventing the creation of plaque.
Traditionally it is used to relieve stomach pain and digestive disorders, as it enhances the digestive process.
Saffron tea is considered particularly effective for the treatment of respiratory diseases such as asthma.
It is considered natural medicine for the skin and especially for the treatment of acne due to its antibacterial properties. Antioxidants crocus provide protection against free radicals, which, among other things, cause premature aging.
It has sedative properties, so it is used to fight anxiety and frustration. Additionally, it offers wellness, mental clarity and stimulation. Some studies have been shown that saffron is beneficial in cases of mild depression, and appears to have similar effects to those of antidepressants.
Since ancient times saffron was associated with love and fertility. Today it is considered a powerful “weapon” to enhance male fertility. Studies in animals have shown that the antioxidant substances improve sperm mobility. In women, the use of small amounts seems to regulate menstruation.
According to scientists saffron has potent anticancer activity, which is due to the antioxidant crocetin, which appears to be able to prevent the development of cancer cell proliferation.
In the market, we can find saffron as a spice in 2 forms, in filaments, and powder resulting from grinding spots. It is available, however, in various pharmaceutical products (e.g. dietary supplements).
In cooking is, it used in small quantities to give the food a yellow color and special aroma. It fits perfectly with rice, pasta, potatoes, white meat, fish, soups and sauces, while it harmoniously combines with other spices. We can also enjoy saffron in our drinks (tea, coffee, milk, etc.). In any case, its use should be done in moderation, as the large amount can alter the taste of food.
An intake of up to 1.5 g. daily is considered safe, but at doses above 5 g. day saffron is considered toxic to the body. It is not indicated for people with liver or kidney disease, while excessive consumption should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women.
Note: The ideas and information presented in this blog are for informational purposes only and in no case can replace the advice of a specialist in nutrition and health. Before starting any diet or exercise or before adding a special food in your daily intake, you should contact a specialist doctor or dietitian; especially if you suffer from a serious illness.