The most popular spice, which offers everything nice – that’s saffron. But not all us are aware of saffron benefits, which, we tell you, are simply wonderful. And, we have covered all of them in this post!
Just keep reading.
What Is Saffron?
A spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus (which also is its scientific name), saffron (and its threads, especially) is mainly used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. Apart from its uses, it is also well known for being one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Saffron (Kesar in Hindi, Jafran in Bengali, Kumkumappu in Tamil, Kumkuma pubba in Telugu and Zaeafran in Arabic) is thought to have originated in or near Persia, from where it propagated to Eurasia, and then to parts of North America, North Africa, and Oceania. The plant usually thrives in the Mediterranean maquis (a place in the Mediterranean regions with dense evergreen shrubs), and in similar climates where hot and cold summer breezes blow over semi-arid lands. The flower of the plant is purple and possesses a honey-like fragrance. The stems grow up to 20 to 30 cm in height, and they, along with the flowers and roots, develop between October and February.
It comes in various varieties; some of the popular ones include –
– Padmagadhi, grown in Kashmir and often considered the best variety (also called Mongra or Lacha saffron).
– Parasika kumkuma, which has bigger strands.
– Madhugandhi, which has thick strands that are rough to tough (and are slightly white).
– Bahilka, which has tiny white strands.
Other popular varieties are sargol (native to Iran), Acquilla (native to Italy), and crème (native to Spain).
That’s the brief. But this popular spice has an interesting history too.
What Is The History Of Saffron?
Cultivation and use of saffron span more than 3,500 years. It has been traded and used across continents and even utilized as a treatment for over 90 disorders. Ancient Greek legends speak of soldiers embarking on perilous voyages to procure what was thought to be the most valuable saffron. Cleopatra, as per certain texts, used saffron in her baths for its cosmetic properties. Egyptian healers used this spice for treating gastrointestinal ailments. And the Romans used it as a deodorizer.
We speak of all of this for one reason, and one reason only – saffron is good for you. But why?
Why Is Saffron Good For You?
As per the writings of Hippocrates (often regarded as the father of medicine), it is a wonderful treatment for colds and coughs, stomach issues, uterine bleeding, insomnia, flatulence, and even heart trouble.
It is extremely rich in manganese, which helps regulate blood sugar and aids the formation of bones, tissues, and sex hormones (1). It also contains vitamin C that fights infections and aids iron absorption. More interestingly, it contains over 150 volatile compounds. Most of the saffron’s healthful qualities can be attributed to crocin, a compound in saffron.
Even saffron milk has great things to offer. This spice, when combined with milk, can improve digestion and appetite, keep your skin healthy, and even enhance your immunity. Drinking saffron milk every day, especially before going to bed, can promote sound sleep. Saffron oil can make your skin glow – and even saffron water has amazing properties.
All of this boils down to the contents in saffron – which is what we will look at now.
What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Saffron?
Saffron, in about 100 grams of its quantity contains 310 kilocalories, 65.37 grams of carbohydrates, 11.43 grams of protein, 5.85 grams of fat and 0mg of cholesterol. Dietary fiber content is 3.9 grams with other minerals like calcium 111mg, copper, 0.328mg, iron 11.10mg, magnesium 264mg and manganese 28mg contributing to its mineral base.
We saw why saffron is good for you. But that’s not all – there are numerous other ways this expensive spice can make your life better. Let’s take a look at them.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Saffron?
The amazing healing and medicinal properties of saffron offer various benefits, some of the most important ones include the prevention of serious ailments like cancer, improving respiratory and digestive health, and eliminating pain. It also acts as an aphrodisiac. The best saffron benefits are discussed hereunder:
1. Fights Cancer
Studies have shown that cancerous rats treated with saffron aqueous extract showed improvement in their condition. And crocin, the compound in saffron, had inhibited the growth of colorectal cancer cells (while it left the healthy cells unaffected). It also had shown similar effects in the case of hepatic and prostate cancers. The spice had also played a major role in treating skin cancer(2).
It is rich in carotenoids, which can contribute to its anticancer properties. Crocin in saffron can prevent breast cancer and leukemia (3). However, further research is warranted.
As per a report by the American Council of Science and Health, crocetin (a carotenoid related to crocin) in saffron can block the proliferation of two types of human cancer (4). It achieves this by inhibiting an enzyme that is particularly active in cancer cells. Though this may not brand saffron as a superb anticancer food, the spice does hold great promise.
According to another study, crocetinic acid (a purified compound from crocetin) has the potential to inhibit pancreatic cancer. In fact, the compound obstructs cancer stem cells – destroying them, which prevents cancer from returning (5).
2. Aids Arthritis Treatment
An Italian study states that crocetin in saffron can enhance cerebral oxygenation, consequently facilitating arthritis treatment (6). According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one variety of saffron (meadow saffron) can be effective in relieving gout (7). However, it must not be used by elderly patients with liver, kidney or bone marrow disorders – and neither by pregnant women.
3. Improves Vision
A Spanish study states that the natural compounds in saffron can help prevent vision loss and retinal degeneration. Safranal, one of the compounds in the spice, was found to preserve photoreceptor morphology (the mechanism in the eyes that helps study the forms of things you see), visual response, and capillary network (8).
Saffron supplementation to ongoing treatment was found to improve macular thickness in patients. This significantly improves retinal function. It was also found to prevent photoreceptor damage induced by chronic oxidative injury (9).
And as per a report by The University of Sydney, it was found to improve vision in the elderly. In the test, the patient’s vision had improved after taking saffron pills. It affects the genes that regulate the fatty acid content of the cell membrane – and this makes vision cells more resilient. The study indicates saffron’s potential in treating retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that causes permanent blindness in young people (10).
4. Cures Insomnia
In yet another study, crocin in saffron was found to improve non-rapid eye movement sleep in laboratory mice. More importantly, the compound didn’t show any adverse effects (like rebound insomnia) after sleep was induced in the mice (13).
5. Boosts Brain Health
Numerous studies show saffron to be effective in treating learning and memory impairments. In one such study, administering 30 mg of saffron a day showed improvement in the condition of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Also, crocin and ethanolic extracts of saffron displayed antidepressant effects in rodents. Saffron supplementation had also largely improved the mood of the subjects in another study. Saffron aqueous extract was well tolerated even by schizophrenic patients, with no serious side effects.
Treatment with saffron extract had also lessened certain neurotoxic effects. Similar extracts had even increased the production of important neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate (14). The spice had shown to improve memory as well.
Studies also propose a protective role of saffron in cerebral ischemia (inadequate blood supply to the brain) (15). Preliminary studies also hint at saffron’s ability to treat depression (16). These cognitive benefits of saffron can be attributed to its antioxidant reinforcement (17).
However, it is important to note that saffron can be lethal if taken in extremely large doses. Consult your doctor before you use it.
6. Helps Cure Asthma
Reports throw light on saffron’s use for asthma since the ancient times. Traditional medicine has mentioned the use of saffron for this purpose (18). However, research is limited. Hence, consult your doctor for more details.
7. Promotes Digestion
It was found to play a key role in promoting digestion and treating digestive disorders through its antioxidant effects and radical scavenging, and anti-inflammatory properties (19). It also shows potential in treating peptic ulcers and ulcerative colitis.
8. Heals Wounds
It can also heal wounds, especially those caused by burns. The spice was found to increase re-epithelialization in burn wounds (20).
9. Enhances Immunity And Energy Levels
The carotenoids in saffron can positively affect immunity. A study has found that sub-chronic use of 100 mg of saffron daily can have a temporary immunomodulatory activity without any harmful effects (21). Saffron petal extract was also found to increase the antibody response in laboratory rats (22).
It is also believed to improve energy levels – but we don’t have clear evidence on this.
10. Is Good During Pregnancy
According to an Iranian study, it can increase the readiness of the cervix during term pregnancy. It also has the highest effect on effacement (shortening of the uterine cervix and the thinning of its walls). Also, the number of cesarean sections was lower in women who took saffron (23).
Conversely, some reports say that saffron can also be used to terminate the pregnancy. Please consult your doctor in this regard. Take their advice.
11. Might Offer Relief From Menstrual Symptoms
There is limited evidence on saffron relieving menstrual symptoms. However, an Iranian herbal drug comprising of saffron was found to relieve primary dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation involving abdominal cramps) (24).
12. Improves Heart Health
Due to its antioxidant properties, saffron helps maintain healthy arteries and blood vessels. And the spice’s anti-inflammatory properties also benefit the heart. It is the richest source of riboflavin, an important vitamin for the heart. The crocetin in the spice indirectly regulates blood cholesterol levels and reduces the severity of atherosclerosis (25).
It can also lower blood pressure, which otherwise would lead to heart attacks (26).
13. Enhances Liver Health
One study shows how cancer could be beneficial to patients with liver metastases (27). It was also found to offer protection against structural liver damages. It also aids in the treatment of liver toxicity (28).
14. Works As An Aphrodisiac
It was found to improve human sexual function – and that too, without the ill effects (29). Studies on human males with erectile dysfunction proved saffron to be marginally effective – but since there were no side effects, the spice holds great potential.
It is beneficial to the male reproductive system as well. In yet another study, the crocin in saffron had improved mounting and erection frequencies in normal male rats. Similar effects are possible in humans too (30). Saffron is also effective on sperm morphology and motility in infertile men. Though it doesn’t increase the sperm count, it does help in the treatment of male infertility (31).
Crocin in saffron was also found to potentially reverse the damage caused to the male reproductive system due to extended nicotine use (32).
15. Relieves Insect Bites
Topical application of saffron extract is claimed to relieve insect bites. However, there is little research on this.
16. Treats Inflammation
One study by The University of Manchester has revealed that Egyptians used saffron to treat inflammation. And given the anti-inflammatory properties of saffron, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Various sources state that saffron is also beneficial for improving blood flow, promoting cell formation and repair, and treating fever and toothache. But there is limited research available. Hence, talk to your doctor if you intend to use saffron for any of these ailments.
What Are The Benefits For Skin?
One doesn’t need to reiterate on the benefits saffron has for the skin. Listed below are the various ways (with their respective packs/masks) the spice can enhance your skin.
17. Offers Radiant Skin
To get radiant and smooth skin, prepare the following face pack.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of sandalwood powder, 2 to 3 strands of saffron, and 2 spoons of milk.
- Wash your face and wipe with a cloth before applying this face mask.
- Apply it while your face is still wet.
- Massage your skin thoroughly in a circular motion.
- Allow it to dry for 20 minutes, then rinse off.
- This mask should be applied once a week for maximum results.
18. Lightens Your Skin
To get naturally fair skin, this is what you need to do.
- Soak a few strands of saffron in milk for 2 hours.
- Smear this milk all over your face and neck.
- Wash off after a few minutes.
- Using this regularly will make your skin naturally fair.
- Here’s another mix that you can prepare to get naturally fair skin:
- Soak sunflower seeds (chironji) and saffron in milk and keep them overnight.
- Grind this mixture in the morning.
- Apply it on your face to get fair and glowing skin.
Adding a few strands of saffron to your glass of milk can also give you a glowing complexion. Expectant mothers are often given milk and saffron so that the fetus in the womb gets a fair and glowing complexion. There is, however, no medical theory supporting this.
It strands can be sprinkled in your warm bath water. Let it soak in the water for 20 minutes. Use this water for your bath. This will lighten your complexion naturally.
19. Helps Treat Acne And Blemishes
The antifungal content of saffron makes it effective for the treatment of acne, blemishes, and blackheads.
- Mix 5-6 basil leaves with 10-12 strands of saffron to make a fine paste.
- Apply this on your face.
- Wash off with cold water after 10 to 15 minutes.
This will help in getting rid of acne and pimples. Basil leaves can eliminate the bacteria that cause acne and pimples. Apply saffron soaked milk on your face twice a day to clear blemishes.
20. Treats Dull Skin
Now you can bid adieu to dull skin!
- Add 2-3 strands of saffron to one teaspoon of water and keep overnight.
- By the next morning, the color of the water will turn yellow.
- Add one teaspoon milk, 2-3 drops of olive or coconut oil and a pinch of sugar to this saffron water.
- Dip a piece of bread in this mixture, and dab it all over your face.
- Allow it to dry for 15 minutes, then wash off.
- This mask will freshen up dull skin as well as erase dark circles.
- It also exfoliates your skin by helping blood circulation, thus making your skin smooth and glowing.
21. For Luminous Complexion
Concerned about your complexion? Here you go.
- Add a few strands of saffron to honey.
- Massage your face with this face pack.
This will stimulate blood circulation by providing oxygen to your skin. Using this face pack regularly will give you a glowing complexion.
22. Tones Your Skin
It can help in toning up your skin. All you need to do is soak saffron strands in rose water and apply it to your skin after scrubbing.
23. Improves Skin Texture
This is all you need to do to improve your skin texture.
- Boil ½ cup of water for 10 minutes.
- Add 4 to 5 strands of saffron and 4 tablespoons of milk powder to this water.
- Apply it to your face.
- Keep it on for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash with cold water.
This face pack will help to improve the texture of your facial skin.
24. Treatment Of Dry Skin
If you have dull and dry skin, you can prepare a mask with lemon and saffron. Lemon cleans your skin from deep within while saffron provides luminosity to it. All you need to do is:
- Mix a few drops of lemon juice with a spoonful of saffron powder.
- If you have very dry skin, you can add a few drops of milk.
- Make it into a smooth dough and spread all over your face.
- Leave it on for 20 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.
25. Heals Wounds And Scars
Warriors in the past have been known to use saffron extracts to treat wounds suffered in battle. It holds amazing healing properties that go a long way in healing wounds and removing scars and spots for a blemish-free skin tone.
What About Saffron Benefits For Hair?
There is limited information on the benefits of saffron for your hair health.
26. Prevents Hair Loss
The antioxidants in saffron can also help prevent hair loss. The spice repairs hair follicles and promotes hair growth.
All you need to do is
- Soak a few strands of saffron in milk and add licorice to the mixture.
- Mix well till you get a paste. Apply this to your scalp and hair.
- Leave it as it is for 15 minutes and rinse with cold water.
- Repeat twice a week.
The same remedy can be used to combat baldness too.
27. Delayed Puberty
In underdeveloped girls, saffron has an overall stimulant effect. A pinch of saffron crushed in a tablespoon of milk is useful to stimulate hormones and bring about the desired effect.
28. Food Additives
It is an excellent replacement for synthetic food additives- for eg: instead of FD and C yellow no 5: a synthetic food coloring agent that is a very common allergy trigger, Saffron’s glorious yellow could be an acceptable hypoallergenic choice.
With these Kesar benefits known to us, this culinary treasure has to be used and especially in the winter months. Here are some serving ideas:
1. For a wonderful marinade for fish, add saffron threads, garlic, and thyme to vinegar.
2. Use saffron to give cakes, pastries, and cookies a buttery golden hue and a rich aroma.
3. Cook biryanis with saffron combined with cloves, cinnamon, Indian bay leaves and nutmeg for a memorable treat.
29. Provides Respiratory Health Benefits
It can cure coughing and the common cold. Saffron acts as an expectorant which loosens the phlegm from the lungs and throat. It also has the quality to act as an anti-inflammatory substance as well as a stimulant. Both qualities are beneficial against asthma. Asthma attacks occur only when the respiratory tract has been narrowed down due to inflammation, and saffron can prevent that.
30. Saffron May Improve Bone Health
After menopause, many women suffer from issues with bone health resulting in conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. This occurs due to changes in hormone (estrogen) levels that are responsible for maintaining bone health.
In a rat model of osteoporosis, saffron extract given for 16 weeks was able to prevent the progression of osteoporosis. This was likely mediated by an increase in estrogen levels, which promotes healthy bone cell growth [R, R].
31. Saffron May Prevent Seizures
It has been used in traditional medicine for its ability to prevent seizures (anticonvulsant properties) for a long time. When tested in both rats and mice, saffron use was able to suppress seizures at doses above 400 mg/kg [R].
However, a very high dose of saffron was required to see these benefits. Such high doses pose the risk of toxicity and adverse effects [R].
In epileptic mice, saffron’s active ingredient safranal was able to suppress seizures. This is due to binding at the GABA A receptor, similar to the way benzodiazepine drugs (Xanax, Valium) are successful in preventing certain types of seizures (absence seizures) [R].
32. Saffron May Benefit Diabetes
In muscle cells, saffron increased glucose utilization and the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream. When given alongside insulin, saffron enhanced the activities of insulin and the responsiveness of the cell to insulin [R].
In a rat model of diabetes, saffron supplementation was able to increase glucose uptake into cells when taken during exercise [R].
33. Can Improve Mood Disorders
In a meta-analysis (5 RCTs of 30 to 42 humans each), saffron significantly improved mood [R].
In another study (DB-RCT) of 40 women with postpartum depression, saffron supplementation for 6 weeks was more effective in treating mild to moderate depression than the common antidepressant Prozac [R].
It can also relieve anxiety in mice. One study in mice found that saffron extract reduced anxiety-like behaviors (elevated plus maze test) and increased sleeping time. This indicates that saffron may be effective in treating insomnia and other sleep-related disorders [R].
Similar improvements in depressive symptoms were seen in 61 patients (DB-RCT) with schizophrenia given saffron extract for 12 weeks. It was well tolerated and is considered safe to use, but more research is needed to determine if saffron is as effective as the current therapies used in treating schizophrenia [R, R,].
Potential Side Effects of Saffron
Saffron is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth as a medicine for up to 6 weeks. Some possible side effects include dry mouth, anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, change in appetite, and headache. Allergic reactions can occur in some people.
Taking large amounts of saffron by mouth is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. High doses can cause poisoning, including the yellow appearance of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes; vomiting; dizziness; bloody diarrhea; bleeding from the nose, lips, and eyelids; numbness; and other serious side effects. Doses of 12-20 grams can cause death.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Taking saffron by mouth in amounts larger than what is normally found in food is LIKELY UNSAFE. Larger amounts of saffron can make the uterus contract and might cause a miscarriage.
Not enough is known about the safety of using saffron during breastfeeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Bipolar disorder: Saffron seems to be able to affect mood. There is a concern that it might trigger excitability and impulsive behavior (mania) in people with bipolar disorder. Don’t use saffron if you have this condition.
Allergies to Lolium, Olea (includes olive), and Salsola plant species: People who are allergic to these plants might also be allergic to saffron.
Heart conditions: Saffron might affect how fast and how strong the heart beats. Taking large amounts of saffron might worsen some heart conditions.
Low blood pressure: Saffron might lower blood pressure. Taking saffron might make blood pressure become too low in people with low blood pressure.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For depression: 30 mg/day of a specific saffron extract (Novin Zaferan Co, Iran). A different saffron extracts 15 mg twice daily has also been used.
- For premenstrual syndrome (PMS): 15 mg of a specific ethanol saffron extract twice daily (Department of Cultivation and Development of Institute of Medicinal Plants, Tehran, Iran).
- For menstrual discomfort: 500 mg of a specific combination product containing saffron, celery seed and anise extracts (SCA, Gol Daro Herbal Medicine Laboratory) taken three times a day for the first three days of menstruation.
- For Alzheimer’s disease: 30 mg/day of a specific saffron product (IMPIRAN, Iran).