Crocus sativus / Safraancrocus

Saffron – Exotic Scent in History

The word saffron (Crocus sativus, Iridaceae) has origins in the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow, with further derivations coming from the Old French safran, Medieval Latin safranum, and Middle English safroun. In Greek mythology, Krokos (Crocos), a mortal, fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. Smilax had no interest in Krokos, and he was turned into a purple crocus flower. Another Greek myth of Smilax and Krokos says that he was transformed into the small purple flower after Smilax, his lover, died, and yet another story says Hermes, who loved the youth, changed Krokos into the flower after the young man died. Native to Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years, saffron has been used in medicines, perfumes, dyes, and as a flavoring for foods and beverages. While Iran has the largest production of saffron, Spain is its largest exporter.

Saffron, one of the most expensive spices, has an herbaceous, warm, woodsy, hay-like aroma. It has also been described as bittersweet and leathery, with an earthy base note. Cleopatra used the spice as an aromatic and seductive essence, and it was also used to make aromatic offerings in temples. The spice has also used by pharaohs as an aphrodisiac. The aroma of saffron blends well with other exotic scents, such as cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum var. cardamomum, Zingiberaceae) and ylang ylang (Cananga odorata, Annonaceae). An essential oil, although expensive, can be produced by CO2 distillation or as an absolute.

Crocus flowers were a sacred flower in ancient Crete. It was considered a symbol of the sun, and was used to dye foods and garments the color yellow as part of solar worship. In present times, saffron robes are associated with Buddhist and Hindu divinity and priests and are worn by Buddhist monks and nuns. A well-known Minoan snake goddess figurine shows her wearing yellow garments. An additional pottery representation of an apron-like garment found at Knossos was decorated with images of crocus blossoms. The spice is often said to be worth its weight in gold and is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Its high price often leads to adulteration, which was a significant crime under Henry VIII's reign, as he condemned to death those who adulterated saffron.

Abu Ali (Ibn) Sina's (Avicenna; 980-1037 CE) discourse on saffron included its benefits as a heart tonic, an eye strengthener, aphrodisiac, digestive aid, and as an anti-inflammatory, among many other uses. The results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2010 found that saffron extract suppressed the appetite. A 2012 article on a longitudinal, follow-up study reported that saffron improved early age-related macular degeneration.

BJOG. 2008 Mar;115(4):515-9.

Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial.

Agha-Hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, Ghoreishi A, Rahmanpour H, Zarrinara AR, Akhondzadeh S.

Infertility Center of Dr Shariati Hospital, Vali Asr Reproductive Health Research Center, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.



The aim of this double-blind and placebo-controlled trial was to investigate whether saffron (stigma of Crocus sativus L.) could relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).


Double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial.


Departments of Gynaecology/Obstetrics and Psychiatry, Tehran and Zanjan University of Medical Sciences.


Women aged 20-45 years with regular menstrual cycles and experience of PMS symptoms for at least 6 months were eligible for the study.


Women were randomly assigned to receive capsule saffron 30 mg/day (15 mg twice a day; morning and evening) (group A) or capsule placebo (twice a day) for a two menstrual cycles (cycles 3 and 4).


The primary outcome measure was the Daily Symptom Report, and secondary outcome measure was the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.


In this trial, saffron was found to be effective in relieving symptoms of PMS. A significant difference was observed in efficacy of saffron in cycles 3 and 4 in the Total Premenstrual Daily Symptoms and Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.


The results of this study indicate the efficacy of C. sativus L. in the treatment of PMS. However, a tolerable adverse effects profile of saffron may well confirm the application of saffron as an alternative treatment for PMS. These results deserved further investigations.

Phytother Res. 2005 Feb;19(2):148-51.

Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial.

Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Noorbala AA, Amini H, Fallah-Pour H, Jamshidi AH, Khani M.

Pychiatric Research Center, Roozbeh Hospital, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran.


Depression is a serious disorder in today's society, with estimates of lifetime prevalence as high as 21% of the general population in some developed countries. As a therapeutic plant, saffron is considered excellent for stomach ailments and as an antispasmodic, to help digestion and to increase appetite. It is also used for depression in Persian traditional medicine. Our objective was to assess the efficacy of the stigmas of Crocus sativus (saffron) in the treatment of mild to moderate depression in a 6-week double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized trial. Forty adult outpatients who met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition for major depression based on the structured clinical interview for DSM IV participated in the trial. Patients had a baseline Hamilton rating scale for depression score of at least 18. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, single-centre and randomized trial, patients were randomly assigned to receive a capsule of saffron 30 mg[sol ]day (BD) (Group 1) or a capsule of placebo (BD) (Group 2) for a 6-week study. At 6 weeks, Crocus sativus produced a significantly better outcome on the Hamilton depression rating scale than the placebo (d.f. = 1, F = 18.89, p < 0.001). There were no significant differences in the two groups in terms of the observed side effects. The results of this study indicate the efficacy of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. A large-scale trial is justified.

Phytother Res. 2012 Jul 20. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4784. Avicenna's (Ibn Sina) the Canon of Medicine and Saffron (Crocus sativus): A Review.

Hosseinzadeh H, Nassiri-Asl M.

Pharmaceutical Research Center, Pharmacodynamics and Toxicological Department, School of Pharmacy, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, IR, Iran.


In this review, we introduce the traditional uses of saffron and its pharmacological activities as described by either Avicenna in Book II, Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi al-tib) or from recent scientific studies. Modern pharmacological findings on saffron are compared with those mentioned in Avicenna's monograph. A computerized search of published articles was performed using MEDLINE, Scopus and Web of Science databases as well as local references. The search terms used were saffron, Crocus sativus, crocin, crocetin, safranal, picrocrocin, Avicenna and 'Ibn Sina'. Avicenna described various uses of saffron, including its use as an antidepressant, hypnotic, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, bronchodilatory, aphrodisiac, inducer of labour, emmenagogue and others. Most of these effects have been studied in modern pharmacology and are well documented. The pharmacological data on saffron and its constituents, including crocin, crocetin and safranal, are similar to those found in Avicenna's monograph. This review indicates that the evaluation of plants based on ethnobotanical information and ancient books may be a valuable approach to finding new biological activities and compounds.

Wetenschappelijke onderzoeken 2011

Ghoshooni H, Daryaafzoon M, Sadeghi-Gharjehdagi S, et al.

Saffron (Crocus sativus) ethanolic extract and its constituent, safranal, inhibits morphine-induced place preference in mice. [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]Pak J Biol Sci 2011 Oct 15; 14(20):939-44.

Montalvo-Hernández B, Rito-Palomares M, Benavides J

Recovery of crocins from saffron stigmas (Crocus sativus) in aqueous two-phase systems. [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]

J Chromatogr A 2012 May 4.:7-15.

Ulbricht C, Conquer J, Costa D, et al. Saffron offers protection from liver cancer. [News]Lab Anim (NY) 2011 Oct; 40(10):289.

An evidence-based systematic review of saffron (Crocus sativus) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. [Journal Article, Review]

J Diet Suppl 2011 Mar; 8(1):58-114.

Koulakiotis NS, Pittenauer E, Halabalaki M, et al.

Comparison of different tandem mass spectrometric techniques (ESI-IT, ESI- and IP-MALDI-QRTOF and vMALDI-TOF/RTOF) for the analysis of crocins and picrocrocin from the stigmas of Crocus sativus L. [Comparative Study, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]

Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 2012 Mar 30; 26(6):670-8.

Sabatino L, Scordino M, Gargano M, et al.

HPLC/PDA/ESI-MS evaluation of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) adulteration. [Journal Article]

Nat Prod Commun 2011 Dec; 6(12):1873-6.

Gómez-Gómez L, Trapero-Mozos A, Gómez MD, et al.

Identification and possible role of a MYB transcription factor from saffron (Crocus sativus). [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]

J Plant Physiol 2012 Mar 15; 169(5):509-15.

Boskabady MH, Seyedhosseini Tamijani SM, Rafatpanah H, et al.

The effect of Crocus sativus extract on human lymphocytes' cytokines and T helper 2/T helper 1 balance. [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't] J Med Food 2011 Dec; 14(12):1538-45.

Castro-Díaz N, Salaun B, Perret R, et al.

Saponins from the Spanish saffron Crocus sativus are efficient adjuvants for protein-based vaccines. [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]

Vaccine 2012 Jan 5; 30(2):388-97.

Masaki M, Aritake K, Tanaka H, et al.

Crocin promotes non-rapid eye movement sleep in mice. [Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't]

Mol Nutr Food Res 2012 Feb; 56(2):304-8.