Saffron is the dried stigma of the crocus (Crocus sativus) flower. It is available both as filaments and powder. Around 75,000 blossoms are needed to make a single pound of saffron. For this reason, the price of saffron can range from $50 to $300 per ounce.
Saffron has a long history of use as a spice, medicine, and yellow dye. The crocus was reportedly used by ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and in medieval Egypt.
Saffron may have anticancer, antidepressant, nerve protective, and antioxidant properties and may have effects on the immune system. Saffron has also been studied for its ability to improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, asthma, infertility, menstrual problems, and psoriasis.
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Note: Saffron (Crocus sativus) should not be confused with meadow saffron, also known as autumn crocus (Colchicumautumnale L.), which is a poisonous plant. Saffron grown in America or Africa has been referred to as American saffron and African saffron, respectively, which is a misnomer, as Carthamus tinctorius is the real American saffron and Lyperia crocea Ecklon is the real African saffron. Saffron should also not be confused with prairie crocus (Anemone patens).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Saffron has been suggested as a possible treatment for depression. Crocus petal may also be able to improve symptoms in patients with mild-to-moderate depression. Additional research is needed in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.
Saffron extract may reduce symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease in patients who have stopped taking medication. Further research is required in this area.
In humans, a mixture of eight herbs (chamomile, saffron, anise, fennel, caraway, licorice, cardamom, and black seed) and saffron appears to reduce symptoms of allergic asthma. Further study is required in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.
Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)
In human study, an herbal combination containing saffron reduced the symptoms of painful menstruation. Further study is required in this area.
Based on preliminary study, dried saffron may be effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
Exercise performance enhancement
While studies of the effect of saffron on exercise performance enhancement are lacking, crocetin (a chemical found in the crocus flower) taken daily by mouth may reduce physical fatigue in men but not women. Further study is required in this area.
Saffron extract may be effective in improving the shape and movement of sperm but not in increasing sperm number. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
Saffron may improve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Further study is needed in this area.
Saffron tea, in combination with a diet based on the readings of Edgar Cayce (a health practitioner of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries) has been shown to improve the symptoms of psoriasis. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.