Saffron, the Posh SpiceNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Saffron is like the Rolls-Royce of spices. It is one of the most expensive spices in the world by weight. This luxurious spice is derived from the flower Crocus sativus, a beautiful purple flower, more commonly known as the ‘saffron crocus.’ Reportedly, it takes about 1,000 flowers to produce just one ounce of saffron! That’s why it may cost you $10 to $13 dollars per gram.
Saffron is pricey because of the amount of labor required to produce it. Each red, thread-like stigma (the part of the flower where pollen germinates) has to be hand-picked from the Crocus flower, and there are only three threads of saffron available from each individual flower. This is why it takes so many flowers to produce just one ounce of saffron.
Iran is said to produce about 90 percent of the world’s saffron. For those that produce this spice, some may call it ‘Red Gold.’ Saffron is believed to be native to Southwest Asia.
“Saffron has been used in folk medicine and Ayurvedic health system as a sedative, expectorant, anti-asthma, emmenagogue [meaning it stimulates or increases menstrual flow], and adaptogenic agent. Saffron was used in various opioid preparations for pain relief (16-19th centuries),” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
As far as cooking goes, paella, a popular Spanish rice dish, uses saffron. This spice is also popular in Indian cuisine. In general, saffron makes a great seasoning for vegetables, soups, chicken, rice, pasta, seafood and more. There is even saffron tea.
If you want to punch up a simple side dish for dinner, try this simple saffron brown rice.
I love the taste of saffron and use it pretty often when I cook at home, so I became curious to see if this pricey spice has any potential health benefits.
Potential Health Benefits of Saffron
- Saffron may speed up wound healing.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that in a study done on rats, , “...saffron significantly increased reepithelialization (restoration of skin cells) in burn wounds, as compared to other cream-treated wounds. Although the exact mechanism of saffron is unclear, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of saffron may have contributed to the wound healing. The results of this study raise the possibility of potential efficacy of saffron in accelerating wound healing in burn injuries.”
- Saffron may support bone health.
Saffron is rich in the mineral manganese. There are actually about 28 mg of manganese in every tablespoon of saffron, which is quite a lot. Manganese is an essential trace mineral that aids in bone formation and bone health in general. Women with osteoporosis have been found to have low serum levels of manganese.
- Saffron may help with the management of diabetes.
One study suggests that resistance training along with saffron consumption has a significant reduction in the total cholesterol of diabetic rats. “To sum up, the findings of the present study indicated that the consumption of the herbal plant saffron combined with resistance exercise is a strong therapeutic effective factor on diabetic parameters.” says the NIH.
- Saffron may help ease anxiety.
There are compounds present in saffron that may have a positive effect on the endocrine system by helping to release beneficial hormones that keep us happy. According to the NIH, “A number of clinical trials demonstrated that saffron and its active constituents possess antidepressant properties similar to those of current antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine, imipramine and citalopram, but with fewer reported side effects.”
- Saffron may support nervous system health.
The National Library of Medicine (NCBI) states that there “is increasing evidence that consumption of saffron, a spice derived from the flower of the Crocus sativus plant, has various therapeutic effects, including protection of the central nervous system. These beneficial effects have been widely attributed to the strong antioxidant properties of saffron and its key constituents, although data showing that these antioxidative properties are potentiated by the presence of living cells suggest actions that extend beyond direct chemical scavenging.”
- Saffron may help prevent cancer.
Perhaps this is due to saffron containing antioxidants, which may help to combat systemic inflammation. The NIH reports that saffron may have antitumor effects and preventative properties when it comes to cancer.
“Recent scientific findings have been encouraging, uniformly showing that saffron and its derivatives can affect carcinogenesis in a variety of in vivo and in vitro models particularly crocin and crocetin have significant anticancer activity in breast, lung, pancreatic and leukemic cells.”
Precautions with Saffron?
Watch out for counterfeit versions of saffron. Because this spice is so expensive, saffron products may be diluted or replaced with something that looks like saffron. Your best bet is to buy saffron at Whole Foods or a local health food store. It should come in a small jar or container with the red, thread-like stigma.
Also pay attention to the color and smell, which usually is reminiscent of a honey and hay aroma. Here is some useful information on ‘How to smell a fake’ saffron product.
Saffron supplements are available, however, be mindful of the warnings. You should always consult a competent healthcare professional before taking any supplements. And, as always, remember to consult a healthcare professional before making any drastic dietary changes and to check with them about possible pharmaceutical interactions. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have any existing health issues, such as diabetes, it is best to seek advice about what foods, herbs and spices you are including in your daily diet.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.