Derived from the flowers of Crocus sativus, saffron has been used for thousands of years in foods, fabric dyes, perfumes and traditional medicines.
Its labour-intensive method of harvesting—the bright red threads, or stigmas, of the crocus are hand-picked, with 70,000 flowers yielding just one pound of saffron—makes it the world’s costliest spice.
Known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, saffron gives foods a vivid yellow-orange hue; its subtle taste and aroma pairs well with savoury dishes. Saffron can be purchased in various forms, including threads, powders and supplements, but it’s best to choose saffron threads since they are more versatile and less likely to be adulterated.
- Poised Protection: Saffron is loaded with powerful anti-oxidants, including crocetin, crocin, safranal and kaempferol, which may boost the body’s defense against free radicals. These potent phytochemicals produce anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant and anti-cancer effects, and represent promising new agents in the treatment of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, nervous system disorders and metabolic disorders. Saffron is also known to have anti-sun effects that may help protect the skin from the sun's harmful UV rays. Reputed to have been used by Cleopatra in her beauty products, saffron is an ideal ingredient in cosmetics for sensitive skin due to its calming properties. Plus, it may improve circulation and brighten the complexion.
- Mellow Yellow: Saffron may have antidepressant properties similar to many anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. Depressive disorders are a leading cause of disability and are thought to represent the second largest disease burden worldwide. Preliminary studies and trials have found that both saffron petals and stigmas may be effective in treating symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Plus, fewer people report experiencing side effects from taking saffron compared to other conventional pharmaceutical treatments. Identifying new treatments with more favourable outcomes for depressive disorders is important due to safety concerns, adverse effects, limited efficacy and low tolerability associated with many medications.
- Sensual Stimulant: Initial findings of a small-scale study suggest that 20 minutes of exposure to saffron’s aroma may significantly decrease the stress hormone cortisol. The bioactive compound safranal is thought to be the main source of saffron’s unique scent. The same study also found support for positive physiological and psychological effects of the fragrance of saffron in the management of PMS, dysmenorrhea and irregular menstruation. Traditionally touted as an aphrodisiac, saffron may also be successful in managing sexual dysfunction, particularly in patients being treated for depression or anxiety with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). The results of a systematic review of saffron show that it had a positive effect on erectile dysfunction, and may also safely and effectively improve other sexual issues, including arousal, lubrication and pain.
Try this superfood in our Slow Cooker Saffron Chicken & Tangine.