Latin name: Crocus sativus
Family: Iridaceae (Iris Family)
Medicinal use of Saffron:Saffron is a famous medicinal herb with a long history of effective use, though it is little used at present because cheaper and more effective herbs are available. The flower styles and stigmas are the parts used, but since these are very small and fiddly to harvest they are very expensive and consequently often adulterated by lesser products. The styles and stigmas are anodyne, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, appetizer, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, sedative and stimulant. They are used as a diaphoretic for children, to treat chronic haemorrhages in the uterus of adults, to induce menstruation, treat period pains and calm indigestion and colic. A dental analgesic is obtained from the stigmas. The styles are harvested in the autumn when the plant is in flower and are dried for later use, they do not store well and should be used within 12 months. This remedy should be used with caution, large doses can be narcotic and quantities of 10g or more can cause an abortion.
Description of the plant:
Habitat of the herb:Not known in a truly wild location.
Edible parts of Saffron:The flower styles are commonly used as a flavouring and yellow colouring for various foods such as bread, soups, sauces, rice and puddings. They are an essential ingredient of many traditional dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse, risotto milanese and various other Italian dishes. The styles are extremely rich in riboflavin. Water soluble. Yields per plant are extremely low, about 4000 stigmas yield 25g of saffron. Saffron is the world's most expensive spice, it takes 150,000 flowers and 400 hours work to produce 1 kilo of dried saffron. About 25 kilos of styles can be harvested from a hectare of the plant. Fortunately, only very small quantities of the herb are required to impart their colour and flavour to dishes. Because of the cost, saffron is frequently adulterated with cheaper substitutes such as marigold flowers and safflower. The flower styles are used as a tea substitute. Root - cooked. The corms are toxic to young animals so this report of edibility should be treated with some caution.
Other uses of the herb:The yellow dye obtained from the stigmas has been used for many centuries to colour cloth. It is the favoured colouring for the cloth of Indian swamis who have renounced the material world. A blue or green dye is obtained from the petals.
Propagation of Saffron:Seed - according to some reports this species is a sterile triploid and so does not produce fertile seed. However, if seed is obtained then it is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame. Germination can take 1 - 6 months at 18°C. Unless the seed has been sown too thickly, do not transplant the seedlings in their first year of growth, but give them regular liquid feeds to make sure they do not become deficient. Divide the small bulbs once the plants have died down, planting 2 - 3 bulbs per 8cm pot. Grow them on for another 2 years in a greenhouse or frame and plant them out into their permanent positions when dormant in late summer. It takes 3 years for plants to flower from seed. Division of the clumps in late summer after the plant has died down. The bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.
Cultivation of the herb:Not known in a truly wild location.
Known hazards of Crocus sativus:The plant is poisonous. The plant is perfectly safe in normal usage but 5 - 10 grams of saffron has been known to cause death.
Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.