Saffron’s Health Benefits

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September 26, 2016
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

What’s the most expensive food in the world? More costly than gold, and much tastier? The fabled spice—saffron. Step aside, caviar and truffles. At $2,700 per ounce, saffron makes you second-class culinary treats. And take this—saffron is prized not just as a delicious spice, or as a gorgeous dye (in Buddhist robes, for example—a single tiny thread of saffron gives 10 gallons of water that unique golden hue) or as an enticing fragrance note in high-class perfumes.

It’s also chock full of jaw-dropping health benefits:

  • A powerhouse of immune-system boosting antioxidants that protect against everything from infections to cancers
  • An excellent source of essential minerals copper, potassium, calcium, manganese (nearly 400% of the daily recommended value), iron, selenium, zinc, and magnesium
  • A super source of vital vitamins A and C, and of folic acid, riboflavin, and niacin, all essential for optimum health
  • Can significantly reverse harmful aluminum toxicity-induced symptoms like memory loss and neurological disorders

Who knew these delicate threads could pack so many different punches?

Well…the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Ayurvedic healers knew. And healers in the Middle Ages knew—some poor rogues were caught adding fake saffron to saffron, to make it look like more saffron. They were buried alive.

Today, modern medicine agrees that saffron is the real healing deal, and faking it will still get you in trouble.

Why saffron costs a fortune

So many natural health givers are easily affordable. So what’s up here, along with the price?

Crocus flowers, our lovable harbingers of spring, contain thread-like stigmas—part of their reproductive systems.

These threads—saffron, when harvested and dried—are extremely fragile, crumbling at the slightest touch.

The only way to separate them from the flower is by hand—with tweezers. It’s incredibly delicate work.

And there are only three stigmas per crocus. So it takes 80,000 hand-harvested flowers—about an acre, or 90 percent of a US football field—to get a single pound of saffron.

Not quite as easy as growing organic fruits and vegetables.

A delicious multi-tasker

Don’t let saffron’s labor-driven cost put you off. A little goes a long way. That’s why it’s used in small, affordable doses, in so many ways:

  • As an anti-depressant for people with mild to moderate depression
  • To slow the spread of some cancers, without damaging healthy cells
  • To relieve symptoms of asthma and whooping cough and to loosen phlegm
  • As a sleep aid
  • To reduce blood pressure and arterial pressure
  • To increase antioxidant levels in people with coronary artery disease
  • To slow development of Alzheimer’s disease
  • To relieve flatulence and heartburn
  • To prevent retinal damage associated with age-related macular degeneration
  • To relieve menstrual cramps and PMS

How much saffron?

Everything I’ve read about studies past and underway leads to good news.

Fortunately, given the cost, you don’t need huge gulps of saffron to benefit from its remarkable powers. For example:

  • A dosage of 30 mg daily in 2 divided doses was effective in improving symptoms mild to moderate depression, and in premenstrual syndrome.
  • Improved antioxidant activity was shown in coronary artery disease patients who were given saffron 50 mg extract twice daily.

You should convey this information to your doctor if you’re in those categories.

If you’re in good health, I recommend 30 mg of saffron extract daily to keep you that way.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all you need is contained in a delicious meal?

Saffron on the healthiest menus

There are countless incredibly tasty recipes that use saffron, from every corner of the globe.

Indian and Pakistani curries, or just plain saffron rice…Middle Eastern couscous, Mexican and Middle Eastern rice and chicken…Italian risotto, all sorts of refreshing and healing beverages…you can’t go wrong.

I’m pretty confident that a steady diet of saffron-rich meals would deliver all of its health benefits. But that’s impossible to prove—too many variables. How much saffron did you use? How many people shared the meal? Was the saffron of the highest quality and fresh?

Unanswerable questions.

For another thing—it’s such an unusual component of mainstream US cuisine, it’s not likely to become a mainstay. Though I’ll bet that could change, one super-delicious bite at a time.

As long as I’ve done my job of introducing you to this extraordinary golden spice, I leave it to you and your doctor to find how best to use it.

References

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