encyclopedia

Saffron

Scientific Names:
Crocus sativus L. [Fam. Iridaceae]

Forms:
Dried stigmas of saffron; saffron aqueous extracts

Traditional Usage:
– Acute Breathing Disorders

– Amenorrhea

– Antioxidant

– Antispasmodic

– Anxiety

– Cellular Regeneration

– Cleansing

– Cramps

– Detoxification

– Digestive Upsets

– Eyesight Disorders

– High Cholesterol

– Memory Loss

– Sedative

– Spasms (digestive)

– Taste Enhancer

– Vascular Disorders

Overview:
Saffron, the dried stigmas of Crocus sativus L. [Fam. Iridaceae], is a popular spice used around the world, also used traditionally as a medicine, although potentially toxic in high doses. Saffron is used in folk medicine for various purposes. Saffron is a component of the gastrointestinal remedy, Swedish Bitters, and is listed in the German Commission E Monographs as a sedative to calm the nerves and as a spasmolytic for alleviating cramps. The stigmas contain high concentrations of colorful antioxidant flavonoids, largely carotenoids including a water-soluble yellow pigment called crocetin. Modern pharmacological studies have demonstrated that saffron extracts have antitumour effects, radical scavenger properties and hypolipaemic effects. Crocetin is mainly responsible for these pharmacological activities. Dr. James Duke in The Green Pharmacy, notes the traditional use of saffron for treating amenorrhea and also comments that the spice has power to lower vascular pressure due to it’s crocetin content. Authorities speculate that the low incidence of vascular disorders in Spain might be due to that nation’s high saffron consumption. Animal experiments show that crocetin has lipid-lowering properties. Crocetin decreased serum cholesterol by approximately 30% in rabbits and prevented hypercholesterolemia and also considerably raised oxygen diffusion to the plasma by up to 80%. Recent studies on saffron show that the herb also prevents abnormal growths. Other studies show that saffron’s crocin content helps to improve ocular blood flow and retinal function. Crocin was found to significantly increase blood flow in the retina and facilitate retinal recovery. Increased blood flow due to vasodilation presumably improves oxygenation and nutrient supply of retinal structures and could be useful for treating ischemic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. In addition, recent behavioural and electrophysiological studies have demonstrated that saffron extract affects learning and memory in experimental animals; crocetin and crocin could be useful for treating neurodegenerative disorders.

Active Ingredients:
Saffron contains: approximately 0.4-1.4% essential oil; yellow flavonoids derived from the diterpene, crocetin; bitter substances including: picrocrocin and safranal (the compound that imparts the characteristic aroma of saffron); beta-hydroxycyclocitral; 2-butenoic-acid-lactone; carbohydrates; beta carotene; gamma-carotene; cineole; copper; crocin 1-4 (disaccharide analogs of crocin, such as crocin-1 and crocin-2, were less potent than monosaccharide analogs of crocin, such as crocin-3 and crocin-4, for improving eyesight); crocose. The stigmas also contain: 8.5-16% water; 6-13% fixed oil; oleanolic-acid derivaties; oleic acid; 4.3-4.8% fibre; 12.6-13.6% protein; 12-13% starch; lauric acid; lycopene; manganese; 2.2-2.4% nitrogen; thiamin; xanthophylls; and zeaxanthin.

Suggested Amount:
Saffron is generally used as a spice in cooking or as an ingredient of Swedish Bitters. The maximum daily dose of saffron is 1.5 grams. Caution: Large doses of saffron can be lethal (see Side Effects below). For medicinal purposes, it is recommended to seek the supervision of a trained physician when using saffron.

Drug Interactions:
None known

Contraindications:
None known

Side Effects:
No side effects are known at the recommended dosages. However, saffron is highly toxic when taken in larger amounts. Overdose with 5g causes serious side effects including: vomiting, uterine bleeding, bloody diarrhea, haematuria, nose bleeding and several other serious symptoms. At 10 g saffron acts as an abortifacient. The lethal dosage for saffron is 20g.

References:

Abe K, Saito H. 2000. Effects of saffron extract and its constituent crocin on learning behaviour and long-term potentiation. Phytother Res 2000 May; 14(3): 149-52.

Premkumar K, Abraham SK, Santhiya ST, Gopinath PM, Ramesh A. 2001. Inhibition of genotoxicity by saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in mice. Drug Chem Toxicol. 2001 Nov; 24(4): 421-8.

Robinson A. 2001. Notes on the saffron plant (Crocus sativus L.). Pharm Hist (Lond). 1995 Jun; 25(2): 2-3.

Wichtl M (ed). 1994. Croci stigma – Saffron (English translation by Norman Grainger Bisset). In Herbal Drugs and Phyto-pharmaceuticals. CRC Press, Stuttgart, pp. 167-169.

Xuan B, Zhou YH, Li N, Min ZD, Chiou GC. 1999. Effects of crocin analogs on ocular blood flow and retinal function. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther 1999 Apr; 15(2): 143-52.