Health Benefits of Saffron or Kesar - the Most Expensive Spice
Saffron or Kesar
Latin name: Crocus sativus
The saffron or kesar plant is about 8 to 12 inches in height. The plant sprouts purple coloured buds in autumn. The buds develop into the light to dark lilac-coloured, sweet-smelling flowers which have a style that divides into 3 crimson-coloured stigmas. The style is yellow in colour.
The stigmas constitute the saffron or kesar spice. Sometimes, in saffron of inferior quality, the styles are also used along with the stigmas but the best quality saffron constitutes of only the stigmas.
Saffron is native to Southwest Asia and Greece though it is cultivated in many countries around the world including India, Iran, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Turkey. It has a history of 3000-4000 years of cultivation and use.
Saffron Bulbs, Plants, FlowersClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Saffron Plant And Saffron Quality
The saffron plant prefers to grow best in full sun and does not do well in shade. Saffron is grown from bulbs or corms as they are called which are the underground swollen stems. A single corm produces up to 10 cormlets that are used to grow a new plant in the next growing season.
The planting depth and spacing between corms along with the weather determine the yield of saffron. As a rule, deeper planted corms produce higher-quality saffron but fewer cormlets-the corm offsprings.
Saffron quality is dependent on the colour, taste, aroma as well as the floral waste (the non-stigma content) and ash content of saffron.
Adulteration of saffron has a long history so it is best not to buy powdered saffron but to go for the one with whole strands.
About 100,000 flowers produce about 400-500 grams of saffron. Since the stigmas are plucked by hand and because of the huge requirement of flowers, saffron is the costliest spice in the world.
Iran produces 90% of the world's saffron. The saffron from Kashmir, India is the highest quality saffron in the world and its stigmas are also bigger than those found elsewhere.
Saffron strands have a bitter flavour and a pungent aroma.
Saffron's colour is due to the carotenoid crocin, the taste due to picrocrocin and the flavour is due to the volatile oil safranal.
Uses Of Saffron
Saffron is widely used in many cuisines around the world, including India. It is used in Indian sweets and sweet dishes, to make syrups, to colour food and flavour both food and beverages.
Saffron is also used in the cosmetic and perfume industry. It is used to dye fabrics. In India, it is a part of religious and marriage festivities.
Ayurveda, Unani and Chinese medicine have used saffron traditionally for healing and even Western medicine uses it to treat certain health conditions.
According to Ayurveda saffron balances the tridoshas and increases body heat.
Saffron Rice Pudding | Kesar Rice Kheer
How To Buy & Check Saffron Quality
Do not buy powdered saffron as it could be adulterated. Buy only with the red/crimson stigmas.
Good quality saffron, when put in water, imparts an orange-reddish colour and has a pungent aroma. Saffron without the aroma is past its prime.
How To Store Saffron
Store saffron in an airtight container away from bright light and moisture and it will stay potent and good for a number of years. You can even keep it in the fridge provided the container is airtight.
Saffron Soaked in Water
How To Make Saffron Paste
Add 25 grams of saffron to 50 grams of hot ghee and mix well. To this mix in 50 grams of powdered candy sugar. Whip this mix well. This can be refrigerated and used at 1/4 tsp in a glass of hot milk, tea, water or it can even be consumed as it is.
Having the paste at hand makes the job of using saffron easier and faster. Hence, this note.
Note: Do not consume anything cold after taking saffron paste for at least an hour.
Nutrients In Saffron
- Saffron contains over 150 volatile oils that yield aroma of which safranal is the one that gives it its hay-like flavour.
- Among the non-volatile compounds, alpha-crocin gives saffron its distinct yellow-orange colour.
- It also contains, lycopene. zeaxanthin, alpha and beta carotenes, etc.
- Saffron is extremely rich in manganese and has very good amounts of vitamin C, iron, potassium, phosphorus and copper.
- It has good levels of folates, niacin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and Vitamin A.
Health Benefits Of Saffron
Saffron has an amazing number of health properties among them are anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, anti poisonous, cardiotonic, carminative diuretic, stimulant, galactagogue, sedative, aphrodisiac, immunomodulating and antioxidant properties.
Saffron can be taken in foods or beverages to derive its health-giving benefits. If preferred saffron can be consumed in pill form also. Saffron tea is a popular way of getting these benefits. Some of the health benefits of saffron are enumerated below.
- Saffron can be used to suppress appetite to control weight. This can be beneficial to those who wish to control their overeating habits.
8 to 10 strands of saffron can be steeped in a cup of warm water for 20 minutes to make a saffron tea-like drink. that will provide this benefit. 1 gram of saffron can make 50-60 cups of this saffron tea.
- The crocin, safranal, and picrocrocin have cancer-inhibiting properties as studies have shown. Saffron also has chemopreventive and tumoricidal properties.
- Saffron can treat effectively mild to moderate depression. Both saffron stigmas and petals are effective.
- The antioxidants lycopene and crocetin have shown positive benefits in heart disease. They also strengthen the circulatory system.
- Saffron is effective in treating premenstrual syndrome symptoms.
- The active compound crocin in saffron reduces memory loss, improves learning capacity and can therefore effectively treat neurological disorders and long term memory loss and is safe for treating mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.
- Saffron can reduce the effects of withdrawal symptoms of morphine addiction due to its crocin and safranal content.
- It improves vision and prevents age-related macular degeneration.
- It relieves inflammations of the mouth and tongue and calms down the burning sensation.
- Saffron checks the cholesterol and triglyceride levels from rising.
- It can benefit in conditions of enlarged liver and infections of the bladder and kidneys. It increases the flow of urine and benefits in cases of urine retention.
- Saffron can aid in reducing the consumption of salt by increasing the flavour of the food so that less salt is needed to be added.
- It aids in alleviating respiratory infections, helps to decongest mucus in the chest and also aids in expelling it.
- In males, saffron can benefit the reproductive system by treating erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and increasing sperm count and motility.
- In females, it eases the menstrual flow, controls spasms and thus benefits in dysmenorrhea, primary amenorrhea and aids in easy childbirth in pregnant women if given from 7th month onwards.
(Note: It should not be given in early pregnancy as it may induce abortion)
- Saffron is a complexion builder. It can improve skin tone, reduce under-eye dark circles, acne, pimples, dark pigmentation of the skin and makes the skin glow.
- It reduces indigestion, acidity, controls vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Saffron boosts immunity and increases energy levels.
- Saffron eases childbirth and in post-delivery women, it can increase strength and well being faster.
- Saffron is also useful in asthma, arthritis, insect bites and stings, mental disorders, oedema, etc.
- For facial issues soak 2-3 strands of saffron in 1 Tbsp sandalwood paste for 5 minutes. Mix well and apply on the face and neck. Leave overnight.
You could also regularly drink saffron milk. To make this, soak 4-5 strands of saffron in a glass of hot milk for 5 minutes. Then mix and drink.
- A paste made of saffron heals wounds, cuts, injuries, and burns, while a paste made of saffron and sandalwood applied on the forehead reduces fever and headache.
- To rejuvenate the male and female reproductive organs drink kesar badam milk (Almond-Saffron milk).
To make almond saffron milk soak 5-6 almonds in water overnight. The next morning remove their skins. Grind the almonds and mix in 1 cup of milk. Add 4-5 strands of saffron and 1 tsp honey. Blend and drink.
This drink will remove sexual weakness, increase strength and keep one healthy. Even healthy people can drink this to stay healthy.
- For under-eye dark circles and spots/blemishes on the face, soak 4-5 strands of saffron in a cup of water. Keep for about 10 minutes. Then massage with this.
- For migraine, keep 4-5 strands of saffron in the palm. Add a drop or two of pure ghee to this and rub the strands in this for a minute or so. Remove the strands and put a drop of this oil in each nostril. Pull the drop in. This provides a lot of relief in migraines.
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The information provided in this hub is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician, or health care provider before taking any home remedies, supplements or starting a new health regime.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly