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Saffron - why it's a valuable ancient spice

Sunday October 8, 2017
Saffron - why it

Saffron is a spice derived from the stigmas of the pretty flower, Crocus sativus. When the flowers bloom in October, yielding two or three fragile stigmas, they must be gently hand-harvested.

 

It is native to Southwest Asia and widely cultivated in Iran, where it has been given the name ‘Red Gold’. This distinctly coloured vibrant red spice, with a bitter taste, is a sought-after ingredient and often described as the most expensive spice in the world. 

 

Cultivation and use of saffron spans over more than 3,500 years, and it has application in cooking, preservatives and dyes, but also a long medicinal history. Historical texts suggest Cleopatra, used saffron in her baths for its cosmetic properties. Egyptian healers used this spice for treating gastrointestinal ailments, and the Romans used it as a deodorizer. This unique herbal plant also has a long history of use for improving mood and mental health, during depression and premenstrual syndrome. 


There are three main bioactive compounds in saffron: safranal - a major component responsible for its unique aroma, picrocrocin - responsible for saffron’s bitter taste and crocin - the coloured compound. 

One of the best-known qualities of saffron is its uplifting and antidepressant activity. Its application for treating mild-moderate depression has been widely studied and results strongly support a beneficial effect in reducing symptoms and enhancing cognitive abilities. Subsequent clinical trials have demonstrated that saffron is a safe and effective solution for treating symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in women aged between 20-45 years. Results found an improvement in mood and pain and abdominal discomfort was relieved.

So, there is a lot more to this vibrant ancient spice than meets the eye. Maybe saffron does live up to the title of the most valuable spice in the world.


Saffron is the Viridian Ingredient of the Year 2018. To find out why click here.

 

Author: Katie Bell, MSc BSc, nutritionist and biochemist, is a Technical Advisor at Viridian Nutrition.

 

Viridian Nutrition is the leading supplier of food supplements to specialist independent health food stores. For information about personalised solutions visit www.findahealthstore.com

 

 

References

Akhondzadeh Basti A, Moshiri E, Noorbala AA, et al. Comparison of petal of Crocus sativus L. and fluoxetine in the treatment of depressed outpatients: a pilot double-blind randomized trial. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2007;31(2):439–42. 

Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Noorbala AA, et al. Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Phytother Res 2005;19(2):148–51.

Agha-Hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, et al. Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG. 2008 Mar;115(4):515-9

Mollazadeh, Hamid, Seyyed Emami, and Hossein Hosseinzadeh. "Razi’S Al-Hawi And Saffron (Crocus Sativus): A Review." Iran J Basic Med Sci 18.12 (2015): 1153–1166. Print.

Rameshrad, Maryam, Bibi Marjan Razavi, and Hossein Hosseinzadeh. "Saffron And Its Derivatives, Crocin, Crocetin And Safranal: A Patent Review." Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Patents (2017): 1-19. Web.



 

TAGS: Nutrition News and Viewssaffron

 

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