Historical uses of saffron

Identifying potential new avenues for modern
research
Abstract

Objective: During the ancient times, saffron (Crocus sativus L.) had many uses around the world. However, some of these uses were forgotten throughout history. But a newly formed interest in natural active compounds brought back the attention toward historical uses of saffron. Understanding different uses of saffron in the past can help us find the best uses at present. In this study, we reviewed different uses of saffron throughout history among different nations.

Saffron is a spice derived from the dried stigmas of Crocus sativus Linné, which was known by ancient nations and has remained among the world’s costliest substances throughout history. The flower’s natural fields are in the 30˚- 40˚ North latitude. Its flowering period extends over 2 or 3 weeks in October or November (depending on geographical differences), in which the flowers are picked by hands; the dark red stigmas are separated manually and then they are dried.

The stigmas from about 100,000 flowers are required to make a kilo of pure dried saffron (Claus, 1962; Abrishami, 1987; Abrishami, 1997; Dalby, 2000). Saffron has been used by different nations for different purposes such as a spice,
a dye and a perfume (Abrishami, 2004). During almost four millennia, saffron has had
the largest number of application among all medicinal plants and has been used in the
treatment of 90 medical indications (Ferrence and Bendersky, 2004).

Nowadays, many types of research are being done on therapeutic and other applications of this precious spice; thus, we have reviewed the modern studies in this regard (Bathaie and Mousavi). In addition, there have been some reviews about historical features and application of saffron (Ferrence and Bendersky, 2004; Giaccio, 2004; Schmidt, Betti et al., 2007).

However, a need for a comprehensive review of the saffron’s uses by different nations throughout history is obvious, especially when it comes to the medicinal and historical uses of Iranian saffron, as there is little known about it in the international literature. Understanding different uses of saffron in the past may help us find new ways of using it.

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