Saffron at oilsncures.comSaffron is a spice derived from the flower of the Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the Iridaceae family. Crocus sativus, a perennial corm, originates from Asia Minor. It grows to 20 cm and flowers in September. Plant the corms in a rich, sandy but well-drained soil, 15 cm apart, in August. They can be grown from seed but you have to wait three years for them to flower.

A Crocus sativus flower bears three stigmas,. together with their styles stalks connecting stigmas to their host plant stigmas are dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, the worlds most expensive spice by weight, is derived from the dried stigma of the flower of the Saffron crocus. It is expensive because at least 60,000 flowers are needed to make one pound of Saffron. Saffron's bitter taste and a hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. A carotenoid dye, crocin, allows Saffron to impart a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Saffron has further medicinal applications.

The English word Saffron stems from the Latin word safranum via the 12th-century Old French term safran. Latin safranum is also the source of the Italian zafferano and Spanish azafrán. It was grown extensively at Saffron Walden in Essex but the finest supplies now come from Spain. Saffron yields a deep, rich yellow that has given its mark to the robes of Tibetan monks, and just a single thread can flavor a whole meal, Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. The flowers are gathered in September and the stigmas are picked out and kiln dried. This herb has a spicy, aromatic and slightly bitter taste. Only a tiny amount is needed to give colour and flavour. Add to the Provencal dish, Bouillabaisse, and other fish soups, stews and paellas. It is a basic ingredient in risotto milanese.

The use of Saffron comes down to us from anitquity, and was used by ancient Greeks, Indians and Egyptian in both cooking and medicine. Traditional uses of Saffron extend far beyond the kitchen. Saffron has been used to reduce fever, to regulate the menstrual cycle, to combat epilepsy and convulsions and to treat digestive disorders. NICHOLAS CULPEPER says "It helps consumptions of the lungs and difficulty of breathing. It is excellent in epidemical diseases as pestilence, small pox and measals and is a notable remedy for the yellow jaundice." The bitter glucoside picrocrocin is responsible for Saffron's flavour. Modern research is confirming the effectiveness of Saffron as an antidepressant and an anti-convulsant. In some studies, it has proved as effective as fluozepan in treating depression. It has also been used in traditional Persian medicine to relieve stomachaches, ease the pain of kidney stones. In traditional Chinese system, Saffron was used as an agent to improve blood circulation and cure the bruise. Some studies suggest that Saffron may also have benefits of anticancer and memory-enhancing activities.

Some recent studies have demonstrated the memory-enhancing, anti-cancer and anti-oxidant activities of Saffron extracts. The spectrum of tumors Saffron aids against is wide including leukemia, ovarian carcinoma, colon adenocarcinoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, papilloma, squamous cell carcinoma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Researchers noted its dose-dependent cytotoxic effect to carcinoma,Saffron at sarcoma and leukemia cells in vitro. Saffron delayed ascites tumor growth and increased the life span of the treated mice compared to untreated controls by 45-120%. In addition, it delayed the onset of papilloma growth, decreased incidence of squamous cell carcinoma and soft tissue sarcoma in treated mice. A study indicated significant inhibition in the synthesis of nucleic acids but not protein synthesis. It appears now that Saffron (dimethyl-crocetin) disrupts DNA-protein interactions e.g. topoisomerases II, important for cellular DNA synthesis. It is believed that crocetin and / or crocin attribute these activities.

As a diuretic and diaphoretic, Saffron induces perspiration and reduces Fever, which is helpful in treating colds and la grippe. In addition, toxins are released through the skin when there is profuse perspiration. Saffron is thought to be a blood purifier and anti-inflammatory. It is said to help relieve Gout by ridding the Uric Acid build-up that accumulates in the tissues, causing joint pain. Additionally, athletes are greatly helped by Saffron, because it also rids the tissues of lactic Acid build up after strenuous exercise and eases fatigue and Muscle inflammation. The herb also relieves the inflammation of Arthritis and bursitis.

Saffron is said to be a mild sedative that may be used for insomnia. One of Saffron's oldest uses has been as an expectorant, helping to expel phlegm from the lungs. As a blood purifier, Saffron is thought to increase the oxygen content of the blood, which may help to lower Blood pressure by reducing plaque and thereby helping to prevent arteriosclerosis and strokes. Saffron is an emmenagogue that will stimulate the onset of Menstruation and regulate its flow. By checking menstrual flow, it is also useful for reducing chronic hemorrhage of the Uterus.

See also the entry for SAFFRON TEA.

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