Medicinal Qualities of Saffron
by Lauren Lander | Saffron is a golden, aromatic spice obtained from the delicate red stigma of the Crocus sativus flower. Roughly 80,000 flowers must be harvested from this perennial to yield merely one pound of saffron. As a result, saffron fetches a lofty price of up to $2,000 per pound. Although long valued for its exotic aroma and warm, slightly-sweet flavor, saffron has a long history of traditional medicinal use, employed among other things as an aphrodisiac, energy-enhancer, digestive aid, cough suppressant, antidepressant and analgesic. As an anodyne and discutient, saffron was commonly added in combination with camphor to fine brandy, providing relief from intense pain. Modern research indicates saffron’s potential as an anti-carcinogen, which includes chemicals that may reduce the occurrence of cancers. Crocin, the carotene responsible for the spice’s golden color, is a potent antioxidant with the ability to trigger programmed cell death in several types of human cancer cells. This was confirmed by research in Mexico showing several of saffron’s components to inhibit malignant human cells while having none of the same effect on normal cells. Instead, saffron stimulated benign cell formation, including that of lymphocytes. Saffron also exhibits remarkable anti-inflammatory activity, which could explain its ability to prevent heart disease. In one study, twenty human subjects, half of whom suffered from heart disease and the other half healthy, received 50 mg of emulsified saffron twice daily. All subjects showed significant improvements in cholesterol susceptibility to free radical damage, particularly those suffering from heart disease. Tip: Saffron’s flavor and chemical components are only released in hot water, alcohol or citrus. To gently activate saffron, immerse in warm orange blossom water. References:
- Saur, Christopher. Sauer’s Herbal Cures: America’s First Book of Botanic Healing 1762-1778. Translated by William Woys Weaver. Routledge, New York 2001.
- Murray, Michael N.D. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books, New York 2005.
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