What Really Is Saffron?

Saffron strands

Wondering how saffron can benefit your overall health? Well, this article is for you! Apparently, saffron is chock full of unique compounds that offer wonderful health perks.

From improving digestion to healing wounds to fighting cancer growth, saffron proves to be a worthy kitchen investment.

Find out everything nice about this wonder spice, and discover how consuming saffron can help treat arthritis, cure insomnia, and boost brainpower among its generous wellness benefits. We’ve also included tips on how to add saffron to your diet!

What is Saffron?

Saffron is a spice obtained from the flower Crocus sativus, otherwise called the “saffron crocus”. Its threads are gathered and dried for culinary purposes, mainly for food seasoning and coloring.

It is thought to have originated in or near Greece. And from there, it spread throughout Eurasia, and parts of North America, North Africa, and Oceania. Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world.

Saffron: Interesting Facts

  • Saffron was used by Alexander the Great to treat battle wounds.

  • Iran is the biggest producer of saffron, with over 94 percent of the world yield. Other minor producers include Greece, Morocco, Spain, and Italy.

  • You would need 4,500 saffron flowers to produce an ounce of saffron spice.

  • Not only was it used as a treatment for wounds, pesticide, and insecticide but in some perfumes as well.

What are the Health Benefits of Saffron?

Saffron on spoon

Saffron’s medicinal and healing properties provide several health perks. Some of the most prized ones include its ability to prevent cancer, treat arthritis, insomnia, and even depression.

Read on as we take a closer look at these impressive saffron health benefits.

Saffron prevents cancer risk

One of the most prized benefits of saffron is its ability to reduce the risk of cancer. Several studies revealed that saffron has cancer preventive properties that help fight the development of such a chronic disease.

One research particularly found that cancerous rats experienced an improvement in their condition after being treated with saffron aqueous extract.

The anti-cancer effects of saffron were attributed to its natural carotenoids, crocin, and crocetin. Crocin, in particular, was found to inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells without affecting normal cells.

Researchers, thus, suggest the use of crocin as an agent for fighting cancer.

Saffron helps to treat arthritis

Studies also discovered saffron’s potential in treating atherosclerosis and arthritis. Its unique compound, crocetin, was found to enhance cerebral oxygenation, assisting in the treatment of the joint disease.

The research also found that crocetin inhibits skin tumor growth, fights oxidative stress, and protects the bladder against toxicity.

Saffron enhances eyesight

The natural compounds contained in saffron were also found to prevent vision loss and retinal degeneration. A research discovered that one of the unique compounds of saffron called safranal works to preserve photoreceptor morphology, visual response, and the capillary network.

Another study found that saffron supplementation had positive outcomes for patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The research suggests that the daily intake of 30 mg of saffron for six months may significantly improve the retinal function in AMD sufferers.

Saffron can cure insomnia and depression

Saffron was also used to treat sleep problems like insomnia and other diseases of the nervous system. Another research examined the sleep-promoting activities of both crocin, and crocetin contained in saffron.

The study found that both carotenoids increased non-rapid eye movement in laboratory mice, and did not have negative effects like rebound insomnia after the mice were sleep-induced.

Another research discovered that saffron supplementation helped improve depression symptoms in adults with a major depressive disorder (MDD).

However, follow-ups are needed to be conducted before a solid conclusion is made on the safety and effectiveness of saffron in treating depression.

Saffron boosts brainpower

Several studies also showed that the antioxidants contained in saffron help to boost brain function and prevent cognitive decline.

Animal studies revealed that the antioxidant reinforcement enhanced the learning and memory of saffron-treated laboratory rats.

Another research also showed that saffron’s crocin component helped weaken symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and even schizophrenia in animal models.

Saffron promotes heart health

Thanks to its rich antioxidant properties, saffron benefits the heart as well. It helps to keep the blood vessels and arteries thriving.

One research found that saffron helps to promote a healthy heart and reduce the risk of cardiac problems by strengthening the blood circulatory system.

The heart health-promoting effects of saffron are attributed to its rich amounts of thiamin and riboflavin.

Saffron fights gastrointestinal disorders

Aside from crocetin and crocin, saffron also contains safranal and picrocrocin, components that were found to have analgesic, antidepressant, and anti-cancer effects on cardiovascular, digestive, and central nervous systems.

Several findings revealed that saffron helps to inhibit cell proliferation and prevent lipid peroxidation. It also contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Because of these mechanisms, saffron is able to fight liver cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, fatty liver, ulcerative colitis, and hyperlipidemia among other gastrointestinal diseases.

Saffron helps to prevent and treat asthma

Saffron was also used in the past to cure asthma. Another research was also conducted to look into saffron’s effects on bronchial inflammatory cells in experimental rodents.

The research found that saffron extract helped alleviate lung inflammatory cells in sensitized rats, suggesting that saffron can prevent lung inflammation in asthma.

Further research, however, is required to solidify this claim. And it’s best to ask your doctor regarding the use of medicinal plants in treating your condition.

Saffron relieves menstrual symptoms

While there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of saffron in alleviating menstrual symptoms, one research found that an herbal drug containing saffron helped ease painful menstrual cramps.

More studies are suggested to be done to establish the efficacy of the herbal drug.

Saffron boosts sexual desire

One of the well-noted saffron benefits is its ability to enhance sexual desire without adverse effects.

Researchers also found saffron to be beneficial in promoting human sexual function, particularly in men suffering from erectile dysfunction.

And since saffron doesn’t come with negative side effects, it is considered an excellent option in improving sex drive.

Saffron heals wounds

Also included among saffron’s extensive benefits is its wound-healing powers. In fact, even Alexander the Great used this spice to treat battle wounds during ancient times.

A 2008 study provided support for such a claim when lab rats were treated with saffron extract for their second-degree burn wounds.

It was revealed that saffron significantly increased the re-epithelialization in burn wounds. The wound-healing effects of saffron were attributed to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Saffron treats inflammation

Saffron was also used during ancient times to treat inflammation. And with its anti-inflammatory properties, this no longer comes as a surprise.

One study showed saffron’s protective effects in acute kidney injury caused by induced ischemia. Saffron extracts and petals were also found to possess antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities.

Saffron promotes liver health

Research also found evidence that saffron can be beneficial for patients suffering from liver metastasis. However, further studies are recommended to solidify these findings.

Another study discovered that saffron and its active components protect the liver against toxins such as endotoxins, mycotoxins, and snakebites.

Saffron is good for the skin

There are also saffron benefits for the skin. The spice is, in fact, used by queens and princesses in their beauty regimen. Saffron’s therapeutic properties and potassium content aid in cell formation and repair.

Its significant amounts of vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties also benefit and soothe the skin for a healthier, youthful glow.

Saffron can be used as a toner, and treatment for acne, blemishes, and dry and dull skin.

How to Add Saffron to Your Diet?

Luckily, you can fit saffron in your diet in various ways. Here are some tips on how you can add saffron to your diet:

Add saffron to your grain-based recipes

You can incorporate saffron into your pilaf, paella, and risotto for that extra boost in flavor. As a general guide, use about 30 saffron threads in your risotto or pilaf that serves four.

If you’re cooking paella that’s good for four people, 50 threads of saffron will do.

Perk up your desserts with saffron

Since saffron has the same flavor profile as vanilla, it can be easily added to desserts such as custard, and sweet bread. A pinch of saffron is already enough for custards good for four.

If you’re baking pastries, add 15 to 20 threads of saffron per 200 grams of flour. A friendly tip: Butter enhances the flavor of saffron better than margarine.

Put saffron in your milk

Enjoy warm saffron milk by adding the spice in your drink.

After boiling whole milk over high heat, you can add sliced almonds, 1 teaspoon of honey, ¼ teaspoon of saffron threads, and ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom for a nutrient-dense beverage.


You may find saffron expensive compared to most spices, but with its potential health effects and impressive nutritional value, it proves to be a worthy investment.

Adding saffron to your diet, and fitness and beauty routine will let you enjoy all its perks. This wonder spice is definitely worth giving a shot.

Leave a comment