Family: Iridaceae, Crocus sativus L.
Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984.
Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature
on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate
Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Saffron, Crocus sativus L. is a perennial herb known ,only
in cultivation. The plant has been prized since antiquity for
the yellow-colored dyestuff that comes from the flower stigmas.
Also known as saffron crocus, the species is principally grown
in Spain, but is also cultivated in Greece, Turkey, India, France,
Italy, and the People's Republic of China. The low-growing,
cormous plant, whose linear upright leaves reach heights of 0.15
to 0.3 meters, has fragrant flowers.
The reported life zone of saffron is 6 to 19 degrees centigrade
with an annual precipitation of 0.1 to 1.1 meter and a soil pH
of 5.8 to 7.8 (4.1-31). The crop grows best in well-drained
soils of medium fertility (14.1-31). Planted from early spring
to autumn from corms, the plants can remain undisturbed for three
to five years before they need to be divided. Blossoming lasts
only a few weeks, and flowers must be collected daily as they
open in order to remove the stigmas. Approximately 210,000 dried
stigmas from 70,000 flowers make one pound of true saffron (11.1-128).
Saffron contains a volatile oil, picrococin, crocin, a fixed oil,
and wax (1.1-275, 14.1-35). The volatile oil consists
of safranal, oxysafranal, pinene, 1,8-cineole isophorone, napthalene
and other compounds (1.1-275). Extracted saffron is a red-orange
color, and has an aromatic odor and a bitter taste. Principal
coloring pigments of saffron include crocin, crocetin, carotene,
lycopene, zeaxanthin, and picrocrocin (11.1-126).
Saffron, available commercially as individual stigmas, ground,
or crushed, is used in cookery as a spice, in flavoring aperitif
beverages, and to color such foods as butter, cheese, rice, sauces,
and soups (11.1-75). The high cost of saffron production
encourages the use of turmeric and the synthetic colorant tartrazine
as alternatives to saffron (11.1-75).
As a medicinal plant, saffron has traditionally been considered
an anodyne, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, emmenagogue,
expectorant, and sedative (11.1-101). The plant has been
used as a folk remedy against scarlet fever, smallpox, colds,
insomnia, asthma, tumors, and cancer (14.1-16). Saffron is
reported to contain a poison of the central nervous system and
kidneys that can prove fatal (11.1-136, 11.1-101).
Autumn or meadow crocus, Colchicum autumnale L., is a poisonous
plant not related to saffron. Fake or American saffron actually
refers to safflower, Carthamus tinctorius L., whose flower
heads yield a dye used as an adulterant to true saffron.
Saffron is generally recognized as safe as a natural seasoning
or flavoring and plant extract (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997