Health Benefits of Saffron (Kesar) For Cancer, Arthritis, Vision and More
Health Benefits of Saffron (Kesar) For Cancer, Arthritis, Vision and More
The most popular spice, which offers everything nice – that’s saffron. But not all us are aware of its benefits, which, we tell you, are simply wonderful. And, we have covered all of them in this post!
Just keep reading.
What Is Saffron?
A spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus (which also is its scientific name), saffron (and its threads, especially) is mainly used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. Apart from its uses, it is also well known for being one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Saffron (Kesar in Hindi, Jafran in Bengali, Kumkumappu in Tamil, and Kumkuma pubba in Telugu)is thought to have originated in or near Persia, from where it propagated to Eurasia, and then to parts of North America, North Africa, and Oceania. The plant usually thrives in the Mediterranean maquis (a place in the Mediterranean regions with dense evergreen shrubs), and in similar climates where hot and cold summer breezes blow over semi-arid lands. The flower of the plant is purple and possesses a honey-like fragrance. The stems grow up to 20 to 30 cm in height, and they, along with the flowers and roots, develop between October and February.
Saffron comes in various varieties; some of the popular ones include –
– Padmagadhi, grown in Kashmir and often considered the best variety (also called Mongra or Lacha saffron).
– Parasika kumkuma, which has bigger strands.
– Madhugandhi, which has thick strands that are rough to tough (and are slightly white).
– Bahilka, which has tiny white strands.
Other popular varieties are sargol (native to Iran), acquilla (native to Italy), and crème (native to Spain).
That’s the brief. But this popular spice has an interesting history too.
What Is The History Of Saffron?
Cultivation and use of saffron spans more than 3,500 years. It has been traded and used across continents and even utilized as a treatment for over 90 disorders. Ancient Greek legends speak of soldiers embarking on perilous voyages to procure what was thought to be the most valuable saffron. Cleopatra, as per certain texts, used saffron in her baths for its cosmetic properties. Egyptian healers used this spice for treating gastrointestinal ailments. And the Romans used it as a deodorizer.
We speak of all of this for one reason, and one reason only – saffron is good for you. But why?
Why Is Saffron Good For You?
As per the writings of Hippocrates (often regarded as the father of medicine), saffron is a wonderful treatment for colds and coughs, stomach issues, uterine bleeding, insomnia, flatulence, and even heart trouble.
Saffron is extremely rich in manganese, which helps regulate blood sugar and aids the formation of bones, tissues, and sex hormones (1). It also contains vitamin Cthat fights infections and aids iron absorption. More interestingly, saffron contains over 150 volatile compounds. Most of saffron’s healthful qualities can be attributed to crocin, a compound in saffron.
Even saffron milk has great things to offer. This spice, when combined with milk, can improve digestion and appetite, keep your skin healthy, and even enhance your immunity. Drinking saffron milk every day, especially before going to bed, can promote sound sleep. Saffron oil can make your skin glow – and even saffron water has amazing properties.
All of this boils down to the contents in saffron – which is what we will look at now.
What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Saffron?
|PRINCIPLE||NUTRIENT VALUE||PERCENTAGE OF RDA|
|Total Fat||5.85 g||29%|
|Dietary Fiber||3.9 g||10%|
|Vitamin A||530 IU||18%|
|Vitamin C||80.8 mg||135%|
We saw why saffron is good for you. But that’s not all – there are numerous other ways this spice can make your life better. Let’s take a look at them.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Saffron?
1. Fights Cancer
Studies have shown that cancerous rats treated with saffron aqueous extract showed improvement in their condition. And crocin, the compound in saffron, had inhibited the growth of colorectal cancer cells (while it left the healthy cells unaffected). It also had shown similar effects in the case of hepatic and prostate cancers. The spice had also played a major role in treating skin cancer (2).
Saffron is rich in carotenoids, which can contribute to its anticancer properties. Crocin in saffron can prevent breast cancer and leukemia (3). However, further research is warranted.
As per a report by the American Council of Science and Health, crocetin (a carotenoid related to crocin) in saffron can block the proliferation of two types of human cancer (4). It achieves this by inhibiting an enzyme that is particularly active in cancer cells. Though this may not brand saffron as a superb anticancer food, the spice does hold great promise.
According to another study, crocetinic acid (a purified compound from crocetin) has the potential to inhibit pancreatic cancer. In fact, the compound obstructs cancer stem cells – destroying them, which prevents the cancer from returning (5).
2. Aids Arthritis Treatment
An Italian study states that crocetin in saffron can enhance cerebral oxygenation, consequently facilitating arthritis treatment (6). According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one variety of saffron (meadow saffron) can be effective in relieving gout (7). However, it must not be used by elderly patients with liver, kidney or bone marrow disorders – and neither by pregnant women.
3. Improves Vision
A Spanish study states that the natural compounds in saffron can help prevent vision loss and retinal degeneration. Safranal, one of the compounds in the spice, was found to preserve photoreceptor morphology (the mechanism in the eyes that helps study the forms of things you see), visual response, and capillary network (8).
Saffron supplementation to ongoing treatment was found to improve macular thickness in patients. This significantly improves retinal function. Saffron was also found to prevent photoreceptor damage induced by chronic oxidative injury (9).
And as per a report by The University of Sydney, saffron was found to improve vision in the elderly. In the test, the patient’s vision had improved after taking saffron pills. Saffron affects the genes that regulate the fatty acid content of the cell membrane – and this makes vision cells more resilient. The study indicates saffron’s potential in treating retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that causes permanent blindness in young people (10).
4. Cures Insomnia
In yet another study, crocin in saffron was found to improve non-rapid eye movement sleep in laboratory mice. More importantly, the compound didn’t show any adverse effects (like rebound insomnia) after sleep was induced in the mice (13).
5. Boosts Brain Health
Numerous studies show saffron to be effective in treating learning and memory impairments. In one such study, administering 30 mg of saffron a day showed improvement in the condition of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Also, crocin and ethanolic extracts of saffron displayed antidepressant effects in rodents. Saffron supplementation had also largely improved the mood of the subjects in another study. Saffron aqueous extract was well tolerated even by schizophrenic patients, with no serious side effects.
Treatment with saffron extract had also lessened certain neurotoxic effects. Similar extracts had even increased the production of important neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate (14). The spice had shown to improve memory as well.
Studies also propose a protective role of saffron in cerebral ischemia (inadequate blood supply to the brain) (15). Preliminary studies also hint at saffron’s ability to treat depression (16). These cognitive benefits of saffron can be attributed to its antioxidant reinforcement (17).
However, it is important to note that saffron can be lethal if taken in extremely large doses. Consult your doctor before you use it.
6. Helps Cure Asthma
Reports throw light on saffron’s use for asthma since the ancient times. Traditional medicine has mentioned the use of saffron for this purpose (18). However, research is limited. Hence, consult your doctor for more details.
7. Promotes Digestion
Saffron was found to play a key role in promoting digestion and treating digestive disorders through its antioxidant effects and radical scavenging, and anti-inflammatory properties (19). It also shows potential in treating peptic ulcers and ulcerative colitis.
8. Heals Wounds
Saffron can also heal wounds, especially those caused by burns. The spice was found to increase re-epithelialization in burn wounds (20).
9. Enhances Immunity And Energy Levels
The carotenoids in saffron can positively affect immunity. A study has found that sub-chronic use of 100 mg of saffron daily can have a temporary immunomodulatory activity without any harmful effects (21). Saffron petal extract was also found to increase the antibody response in laboratory rats (22).
Saffron is also believed to improve energy levels – but we don’t have clear evidence on this.
10. Is Good During Pregnancy
According to an Iranian study, saffron can increase the readiness of the cervix during term pregnancy. It also has the highest effect on effacement (shortening of the uterine cervix and the thinning of its walls). Also, the number of cesarean sections was lower in women who took saffron (23).
Conversely, some reports say that saffron can also be used to terminate pregnancy. Please consult your doctor in this regard. Take their advice.
11. Might Offer Relief From Menstrual Symptoms
There is limited evidence on saffron relieving menstrual symptoms. However, an Iranian herbal drug comprising of saffron was found to relieve primary dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation involving abdominal cramps) (24).
12. Improves Heart Health
Due to its antioxidant properties, saffron helps maintain healthy arteries and blood vessels. And the spice’s anti-inflammatory properties also benefit the heart. Saffron is the richest source of riboflavin, an important vitamin for the heart. The crocetin in the spice indirectly regulates blood cholesterol levels and reduces the severity of atherosclerosis (25).
Saffron can also lower blood pressure, which otherwise would lead to heart attacks (26).
13. Enhances Liver Health
One study shows how cancer could be beneficial to patients with liver metastases (27). Saffron was also found to offer protection against structural liver damages. It also aids in the treatment of liver toxicity (28).
14. Works As An Aphrodisiac
Saffron was found to improve human sexual function – and that too, without the ill effects (29). Studies on human males with erectile dysfunction proved saffron to be marginally effective – but since there were no side effects, the spice holds great potential.
Saffron is beneficial to the male reproductive system as well. In yet another study, the crocin in saffron had improved mounting and erection frequencies in normal male rats. Similar effects are possible in humans too (30). Saffron is also effective on sperm morphology and motility in infertile men. Though it doesn’t increase the sperm count, it does help in the treatment of male infertility (31).
Crocin in saffron was also found to potentially reverse the damage caused to the male reproductive system due to extended nicotine use (32).
15. Relieves Insect Bites
Topical application of saffron extract is claimed to relieve insect bites. However, there is little research on this.
16. Treats Inflammation
One study by The University of Manchester has revealed that Egyptians used saffron to treat inflammation. And given the anti-inflammatory properties of saffron, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Various sources state that saffron is also beneficial for improving blood flow, promoting cell formation and repair, and treating fever and toothache. But there is limited research available. Hence, talk to your doctor if you intend to use saffron for any of these ailments.
What Are The Benefits For Skin?
One doesn’t need to reiterate on the benefits saffron has for the skin. Listed below are the various ways (with their respective packs/masks) the spice can enhance your skin.
17. Offers Radiant Skin
To get radiant and smooth skin, prepare the following face pack.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of sandalwood powder, 2 to 3 strands of saffron, and 2 spoons of milk.
- Wash your face and wipe with a cloth before applying this face mask.
- Apply it while your face is still wet.
- Massage your skin thoroughly in a circular motion.
- Allow it to dry for 20 minutes, then rinse off.
- This mask should be applied once a week for maximum results.
18. Lightens Your Skin
To get naturally fair skin, this is what you need to do.
- Soak a few strands of saffron in milk for 2 hours.
- Smear this milk all over your face and neck.
- Wash off after a few minutes.
- Using this regularly will make your skin naturally fair.
- Here’s another mix that you can prepare to get naturally fair skin:
- Soak sunflower seeds (chironji) and saffron in milk and keep them overnight.
- Grind this mixture in the morning.
- Apply it on your face to get fair and glowing skin.
Adding a few strands of saffron to your glass of milk can also give you a glowing complexion. Expectant mothers are often given milk and saffron so that the fetus in the womb gets a fair and glowing complexion. There is, however, no medical theory supporting this.
Saffron strands can be sprinkled in your warm bath water. Let it soak in the water for 20 minutes. Use this water for your bath. This will lighten your complexion naturally.
19. Helps Treat Acne And Blemishes
The antifungal content of saffron makes it effective for the treatment of acne, blemishes, and blackheads.
- Mix 5-6 basil leaves with 10-12 strands of saffron to make a fine paste.
- Apply this on your face.
- Wash off with cold water after 10 to 15 minutes.
This will help in getting rid of acne and pimples. Basil leaves can eliminate the bacteria that cause acne and pimples. Apply saffron soaked milk on your face twice a day to clear blemishes.
20. Treats Dull Skin
Now you can bid adieu to dull skin!
- Add 2-3 strands of saffron to one teaspoon of water and keep overnight.
- By the next morning, the color of the water will turn yellow.
- Add one teaspoon milk, 2-3 drops of olive or coconut oil and a pinch of sugar to this saffron water.
- Dip a piece of bread in this mixture, and dab it all over your face.
- Allow it to dry for 15 minutes, then wash off.
- This mask will freshen up dull skin as well as erase dark circles.
- It also exfoliates your skin by helping blood circulation, thus making your skin smooth and glowing.
21. Saffron For Luminous Complexion
Concerned about your complexion? Here you go.
- Add a few strands of saffron to honey.
- Massage your face with this face pack.
This will stimulate blood circulation by providing oxygen to your skin. Using this face pack regularly will give you a glowing complexion.
22. Tones Your Skin
Saffron can help in toning up your skin. All you need to do is soak saffron strands in rose water and apply it to your skin after scrubbing.
23. Improves Skin Texture
This is all you need to do to improve your skin texture.
- Boil ½ cup of water for 10 minutes.
- Add 4 to 5 strands of saffron and 4 tablespoons of milk powder to this water.
- Apply it to your face.
- Keep it on for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash with cold water.
This face pack will help to improve the texture of your facial skin.
24. Treatment Of Dry Skin
If you have dull and dry skin, you can prepare a mask with lemon and saffron. Lemon cleans your skin from deep within while saffron provides luminosity to it. All you need to do is:
- Mix a few drops of lemon juice with a spoonful of saffron powder.
- If you have very dry skin, you can add a few drops of milk.
- Make it into a smooth dough and spread all over your face.
- Leave it on for 20 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.
25. Heals Wounds And Scars
Warriors in the past have been known to use saffron extracts to treat wounds suffered in battle. Saffron holds amazing healing properties that go a long way in healing wounds and removing scars and spots for a blemish-free skin tone.
What About Hair?
There is limited information on the benefits saffron can have for hair.
26. Prevents Hair Loss
The antioxidants in saffron can also help prevent hair loss. The spice repairs hair follicles and promotes hair growth.
All you need to do is
- Soak a few strands of saffron in milk and add licorice to the mixture.
- Mix well till you get a paste. Apply this to your scalp and hair.
- Leave it as it is for 15 minutes and rinse with cold water.
- Repeat twice a week.
The same remedy can be used to combat baldness too.
That’s with the benefits. And now…
Where To Buy Saffron?
You can get saffron at your nearest supermarket. Or you can order it online as well.
And if you are wondering about the uses of this spice…
Any Tips On How To Use?
Saffron is a versatile spice that can add a new dimension to both savory and sweet dishes. Not only does it impart a distinct flavor and aroma, it also makes your dish look more presentable. Saffron can be used in thread or ground form depending upon the recipe. If you are using saffron to garnish your dish and wish to create a visual impression, you can use threads. On the other hand, if you want the saffron to blend with your dish such that it is not obvious to the eye, you should go for its powdered form.
The cooking tips given below will enable you to reap the maximum benefits from this magical spice.
– You can prepare your own powdered saffron instead of buying it from a supplier. You can do this by grinding the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle. If you find it difficult to grind the threads due to its moisture content, add a pinch of sugar to them, and then grind. This will make grinding easier without affecting your recipe.
– You can make liquid saffron by adding 3 to 5 teaspoons of warm or boiling water to powdered saffron and allow it to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes. It can be stored in a jar for a few weeks to be used when needed. Liquid saffron can also be prepared with milk, vinegar or wine instead of water. It is usually added to other ingredients towards the end of cooking to draw out the color and disperse the flavor throughout the dish.
And coming to selection and storage…
How To Select And Store Saffron?
– Saffron is the most expensive of all the spices. Hence, proper selection is vital in order to get your money’s worth. Saffron is available all year round in supermarkets and specialty stores. It is available in three forms – saffron threads or stigmas, saffron tips, and saffron powder.
– Saffron threads or powder should be purchased from a reputed distributor. It should be packaged in foil to protect from air and light. Bulk saffron is usually sold in wooden boxes.
– When purchasing saffron threads, ensure that they are dark red in color. These should have orange tips and should not have any color variation. There should be no traces of yellow as they have no utility except adding dead weight. The redder the color, the better is the quality of saffron. If the tips are not orange, it means that the saffron is of inferior quality and has been dyed. Saffron threads with white spots and those with yellow stamens attached should be avoided. The threads should be hard and brittle to touch.
– It is a bit difficult to discern powdered saffron based on color as it is more likely to be adulterated. It generally has a lighter color than the saffron threads or tips. To ensure superior quality, it should be bought from a reputed brand or merchant. The next step is to examine its aroma. Saffron should have a strong and fresh aroma. It should smell sweet and not musty.
– Though saffron is available in both thread and powdered forms, it is advisable to prefer the thread if possible, as ground saffron has a shorter shelf life than the dried threads. It is usually mixed with other ingredients and lacks the quality and flavor of saffron threads. Moreover, saffron is an expensive spice. Thus, if it is available at a lower price, it is likely to be of inferior quality or may even be fake.
Saffron should be stored in an airtight container, preferably in a glass jar in a cool, dark, and dry place. The ideal storage temperature for saffron is below 68°F and in less than 40% humidity.
Like other herbs and spices, saffron is also sensitive to light so it should be wrapped in a foil if kept in a transparent container. If the saffron stigmas are compressed together, they should be loosened and separated a bit before being transferred to the jar. This will make it easier to pull or shake out a few threads at a time.
Though saffron can last several years if stored properly, it is advisable to use it within two years as it will increasingly lose more and more of its flavor with age.
All good. But what about the recipes?
Any Saffron Recipes?
1. Tomato saffron broth (cod poached)
What You Need
- A pinch of saffron
- 1 small diced onion
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 2 cans of diced tomatoes (drained)
- 2 cups of clam juice
- 2 cups of dry white wine
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
- 4 cod fillets
- In a straight-sided skillet (10-inch), heat oil over medium-high heat.
- Cook the onions for 5 minutes or until softened.
- Add garlic, tomatoes, dry white wine, and clam juice.
- Stir in some salt and pepper and add cod to the skillet.
- Now, reduce the heat until the wine mixture is just simmering.
- Cover the skillet and poach for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the fish flakes.
- Serve in bowls with the broth spooned over the fish.
2. Saffron milk tea
This is pretty simple. You just have to steep the saffron threads in hot water. The spice might have a strong and bitter taste – to resolve this, you can add honey. Honey also has numerous antioxidant benefits. Let the threads steep for about 5 to 8 minutes, post which you can remove them and enjoy your tea.
3. Saffron rice
What You Need
- Saffron threads, as required
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, as required
- 1 small diced onion
- 1 cup of uncooked white rice, long-grain and unrinsed
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 cups of boiling water, divided
- Soak saffron threads in two teaspoons of boiling water.
- Melt some butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon and fry for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in onion and sauté.
- Stir in rice at low heat.
- Allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Pour in the boiling broth and stir it in salt and saffron.
- Cover and cook the rice until the liquid is absorbed. This will take about 40 minutes.
And now for some fun facts…
What Are The Facts About Saffron I Need To Know?
- During his Asian campaigns, Alexander The Great used Persian saffron to cure battle wounds.
- Saffron is even used as an insecticide and pesticide.
- It takes 4,500 saffron flowers to make up one ounce of saffron spice.
- Iran produces about 90% of the world’s saffron.
- Saffron is also used in some perfumes.
- Saffron is harvested in the fall, and the process is entirely done by hand.
- The saffron flower can also be used as a dye for clothes.
- You can grow your own saffron. You need well draining soil and a lot of sunlight. Place the saffron bulbs 3 to 5 inches deep and 6 inches apart. And you can fertilize them once a year. 60 saffron flowers can give you about 1 tablespoon of the spice.
Till now we saw all the good stuff. But did you know saffron has side effects too?
Any Side Effects Of Saffron?
Unsafe during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Taking saffron orally in large amounts during pregnancy can cause problems – it can lead to contractions of the uterus and lead to miscarriage. There is insufficient information with respect to breastfeeding. So, avoid use and stay safe.
Since saffron can affect the mood, it might even trigger excitability and impulsive behavior in people suffering from bipolar disorder. Stay away from saffron if you have this condition.
Low blood pressure
Taking saffron might lower blood pressure way too much who are having low blood pressure or who are taking medications for treating high blood pressure. Take care.
Saffron might influence how strong or fast the heart beats. Though it can benefit the heart, please do consult your doctor if you are taking it to treat your heart condition.
More questions? Wokay.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Why is saffron so expensive?
Because the cultivation and harvest are performed by hands – just as it was done in the ancient times.
What are the benefits of saffron powder over saffron threads?
You can add saffron powder directly to your dish, but that isn’t the case with the threads. The threads need to activate their color and flavor.
Well, that is all.
Why is saffron so rare?
It is not rare. Just that it is hard to gather, and yes, expensive.
How do I test the real saffron?
Put a few threads of saffron on your tongue and suck them. Take them out and rub them on a tissue. If they color the tissue yellow, they are real. Otherwise, they are not.
What is the function of saffron in food?
It adds color and fragrance, and more importantly, imparts great benefits.
Where can I get pure and natural saffron from?
From your nearest supermarket. Check for the ISO 3632-1:2011 certification on the pack.
It might be expensive, but it’s worth the investment. Include saffron in your routine today. You will be happy tomorrow.
Also, let us know how this post has helped you. Leave your comment below.
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