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What is Saffron?

True saffron is native to Asia Minor and southern Europe. Its blue-violet, lily-shaped flowers contain orange stigmas (part of the pistil) and red style branches, which are collected to produce the spice saffron. Mature stigmas are collected by hand during a short blooming season. More than 200,000 dried stigmas, obtained from about 70,000 flowers, yield 0.5 kg of true saffron. Saffron commands as much as per ounce in the American market.

True saffron should not be confused with American saffron (safflower, Indian safflower), Carthamus tinctorius (family Asteraceae), that is produced from the tubular florets and is a lighter red than true saffron. The 2 often are used for the same purposes, and the less expensive American saffron sometimes is used to adulterate true saffron.

Scientific Name(s)

Crocus sativus

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Saffron has been used widely for flavoring food and as a dye for cloth, which it continues to be used for in underdeveloped countries and among back-to-basics artisans. Folkloric uses of saffron included its use as a sedative, expectorant, aphrodisiac, and diaphoretic (to induce perspiration). Anecdotal reports from the tropical regions of Asia describe the use of a paste composed of sandalwood and saffron as a soothing balm for dry skin. During the 16th through the 19th centuries, saffron was used in various opioid preparations for pain relief. Laudanum contained sherry wine, opium, saffron, cinnamon, and cloves. Black-drop contained opium, nutmeg, saffron, and yeast.

Miscellaneous uses

Saffron may possess antitumor activity. Chemopreventive (cancer preventive) studies examining the efficacy of saffron need to be performed. Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of saffron for contraception or anti-inflammatory effects.

What is the recommended dosage?

Abortive dose equals 10 g, lethal dose equals 20 g.


Contraindications have not yet been identified.


Documented emmenagogue (to stimulate menstrual flow) and abortive effects. Large amounts (more than 5 g, which is greater than amounts used in food) have uterine stimulant and abortive effects. Information regarding use in lactation is unavailable. Avoid use.


None well documented.

Side Effects

Saffron has been implicated in 1 case of anaphylaxis and 15 cases of seasonable allergic symptoms.


Saffron is not generally associated with toxicity when ingested in culinary amounts.


1. Saffron. Review of Natural Products. factsandcomparisons4.0 [online]. 2004. Available from Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Accessed April 23, 2007.

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