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Saffron

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  • Botanical: Crocus sativus
  • Family: Iridaceae
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Saffron

Botanical

Crocus sativus

Family

Iridaceae

Known as

Safran, Saffron crocus,

Old Use

meidicinal use

Collection Times

Spring

Parts Used

roots

Aroma

spicy

Medicinal

abdominal pain, amenorrhea, bowel cleansing, bleeding, colic, cramps, stomach pain, stomach cramps

Heart & Circulation

bleeding, hemostatic

Hormone & Sexual Organs

cramps, menstruation promotion, uterine cramps

Infection & Inflammation

toothache

Mind & Nerves

colic, insomnia, pain relief

Respiratory System

cough, lung weakness, whooping cough

Stomach & Intestinal

abdominal pain, laxative

Skin & Hair

jaundice

Properties

abortifacient, analgesic, anesthetic, antibacterial, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, narcotic, sedative, stimulant, tonic

Description

The domesticated saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, is an autumn-flowering perennial plant unknown in the wild. Its progenitors are possibly the eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering Crocus cartwrightianus, which is also known as "wild saffron" and originated in Greece. The saffron crocus likely resulted when C. cartwrightianus was subjected to extensive artificial selection by growers seeking longer stigmas. C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible sources.

It is a sterile triploid form, which means that three homologous sets of chromosomes compose each specimen's genetic complement; C. sativus bears eight chromosomal bodies per set, making for 24 in total. Being sterile, the purple flowers of C. sativus fail to produce viable seeds; reproduction hinges on human assistance: corms, underground, bulb-like, starch-storing organs, must be dug up, broken apart, and replanted.

A corm survives for one season, producing via this vegetative division up to ten "cormlets" that can grow into new plants in the next season. The compact corms are small, brown globules that can measure as large as 5 cm (2.0 in) in diameter, have a flat base, and are shrouded in a dense mat of parallel fibres; this coat is referred to as the "corm tunic". Corms also bear vertical fibres, thin and net-like, that grow up to 5 cm above the plant's neck.

The plant grows to a height of 20–30 cm (8–12 in), and sprouts 5–11 white and non-photosynthetic leaves known as cataphylls. These membrane-like structures cover and protect the crocus's 5 to 11 true leaves as they bud and develop. The latter are thin, straight, and blade-like green foliage leaves, which are 1–3 mm in diameter, either expand after the flowers have opened ("hysteranthous") or do so simultaneously with their blooming ("synanthous"). C. sativus cataphylls are suspected by some to manifest prior to blooming when the plant is irrigated relatively early in the growing season.

Its floral axes, or flower-bearing structures, bear bracteoles, or specialised leaves that sprout from the flower stems; the latter are known as pedicels. After aestivating in spring, the plant sends up its true leaves, each up to 40 cm (16 in) in length. In autumn, purple buds appear. Only in October, after most other flowering plants have released their seeds, do its brilliantly hued flowers develop; they range from a light pastel shade of lilac to a darker and more striated mauve. The flowers possess a sweet, honey-like fragrance.

Upon flowering, plants average less than 30 cm (12 in) in height. A three-pronged style emerges from each flower. Each prong terminates with a vivid crimson stigma 25–30 mm (0.98–1.18 in) in length.

Properties & Uses

Other than medical use:

The yellow dye obtained from the stigmas has been used for many centuries to colour cloth. It is the favoured colouring for the cloth of Indian swamis who have renounced the material world. A blue or green dye is obtained from the petals

Traditional Use

medical use:

Saffron is a famous medicinal herb with a long history of effective use, though it is little used at present because cheaper and more effective herbs are available. The flower styles and stigmas are the parts used, but since these are very small and fiddly to harvest they are very expensive and consequently often adulterated by lesser products.

The styles and stigmas are anodyne, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, appetizer, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, sedative and stimulant. They are used as a diaphoretic for children, to treat chronic haemorrhages in the uterus of adults, to induce menstruation, treat period pains and calm indigestion and colic.

A dental analgesic is obtained from the stigmas. The styles are harvested in the autumn when the plant is in flower and are dried for later use, they do not store well and should be used within 12 months. This remedy should be used with caution, large doses can be narcotic and quantities of 10g or more can cause an abortion

Cautions

The plant is poisonous. The plant is perfectly safe in normal usage but 5 - 10 grams of saffron has been known to cause death

Distribution

South Europe - Greece to West Asia.