Saffron | Constituents, Health Benefits & Uses

Saffron is a spice orignated from the flower of Crocus sativus also referred to as the “saffron crocus,” the term “saffron” in English may have its roots in the Old French word Safran from the 12th century, which is derived from the Latin word safranum, from the Arabic word “Zafrn”, and from the Persian word “Zarparan”, which means “gold strung” (implying either the golden stamens of the flower or the golden color it creates when used as flavor). It is one of the priciest spices in the entire globe. Saffron has long held the title of most expensive spice in the world by weight, costing up to US$5,000 per kg. Its labor-intensive harvesting process, which makes its production expensive, is the cause of its high price.

The stigma, which are the thread-like structures on the flower, are referred to as “saffron.”The vibrant red stigma and styles, sometimes known as “threads,” are harvested and dried for use primarily as food flavour and colouring. Due to its distinct color and aroma, Saffron benefits Include its utilization as a coloring and flavouring component in foods, and cosmetics . Picrocrocin and safranal phytochemicals are responsible for saffron’s flavor and iodoform- or hay-like aroma. Additionally, it contains the crocin a carotenoid pigment, which gives textiles and dishes a deep golden-yellow tint. It has been traded and utilized for thousands of years, as indicated by a botanical treatise written by an Assyrian author in the 7th century BC.

Iran, China, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Greece, and India are the primary markets for it. Saffron is said to have its roots in Iran, however, there are still some questions about where exactly. However, it has also been proposed that this plant may have originated in Greece and Mesopotamia. The saffron crocus gradually spread across much of Eurasia before being introduced to regions of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.(Xing et al., 2021, 2022)

The saffron plant belongs to the family Iridaceae. This herbaceous perennial grows from its bulbs to a height of 10 to 25 cm. The sub-ovoid bulb comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. It has a substantial structure, and many concentric spathes cover it. Each mother bulb generates one to three large daughter bulbs from the apical buds and several little bulbs from the lateral buds. Saffron has two different types of roots: contractile roots developed at the base of lateral buds and thin, fibrous roots at the base of the mother bulb. Five to eleven leaves can be found on each bud. They are very tiny, between 1.5 and 2.5 mm wide, and have a dark green tint.They have a whitish strip in the interior and a rib on the exterior, measuring 20 to 60 cm in length.

Beginning in late September, Crocus sativus flowers start to emerge. They are purple in color and have six tepals, three of which are internal and the other three are exterior. These tepals meet at a long tube that emerges from the upper part of the ovary. The flowers are covered in whitish membrane bracts when they first emerge. The pistil is made up of an inferior ovary from which a 9–10 cm long, thin style emerges. The style terminates in a single stigma made up of three filaments of vivid red color that are longer than the tepals, which are the part of the plant that is interesting to humans from a cultural perspective.(Mzabri et al., 2019)

Major Phytochemical Components of Saffron

About 150 volatile and non-volatile chemicals have been identified by the chemical study of C. sativus stigmas. However, fewer than 50 ingredients have so far been found. The three primary biologically active substances are

  • Crocin, a carotenoid pigment that gives the spice its yellow-orange color;
  • Picrocrocin, which imparts saffron flavor and bitterness;
  • Safranal, a volatile substance that gives saffron its distinctive scent and smell.

An uncommon carotenoid found in nature, Crocin (C44H64O24), is readily soluble in water. Crocin has a wider range of uses as a food and drug coloring than other carotenoids, primarily because of its high solubility. The primary cause of saffron’s bitter flavor is picrocrocin (C16H26O7), which can crystallize by hydrolysis. Fresh stigmas contain little to no safranal (C10H14O), the compound that gives saffron its distinctive perfume and makes up 70% of the volatile component; the amount of safranal in saffron depends on how it is dried and preserved.

The main constituents in saffron, in addition to crocin and picrocrocin, are anthocyanins, and flavonoids (such as kaempferol), but it also contains significant amounts of vitamins, amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, mineral matter, and gums. Additionally, it contains a large number of active non-volatile carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, and different – and -carotenes. The more than 34 components that make up the volatiles, which have an extremely potent scent, are primarily terpenes, terpene alcohols, and their esters.

The concentration of these three primary metabolites, which give stigmas their distinctive color and flavor, determines the quality of saffron. Their content is influenced by their surroundings and cultural norms. The chemical makeup of saffron samples from various nations suggests that the quoted values heavily depend on the drying, extraction, and stigma analysis techniques. There are numerous techniques for evaluating saffron constituents. The ISO 3632 standards, are updated every three years and are intended to standardize the classification of saffron globally, therefore governing the quality of saffron.(Mzabri et al., 2019)

Pharmacological Benefits of Saffron

 

Every civilisation on earth has employed plants as a source of traditional medicine from the dawn of time. Saffron has been regarded as a cure-all for more than 3000 years in Ayurvedic, Mongolian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Arabic medicine. a few therapeutic qualities are listed below as being related to saffron. Every tradition is well aware of following pharmacological saffron uses:

Saffron / Zafran has a long history of use as an antidepressant, dating back to ancient times. One of the top five diseases in the world is depression. 11.6 percent of the world’s population is impacted by it. This is anticipated to overtake all other causes of impairment by the year 2020. Similar to conventional antidepressants, saffron can reduce serotonin levels in the brain, which is how it works to alleviate depression. Tryptophan is converted into the mood-enhancing chemical serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine. Crocus petals are substantially less expensive than stigmas despite not being a historically used medicinal herb, which has led researchers to look into their potential for treating depression.As a result Health Benefits, a study comparing the effectiveness of petals and stigmas in the treatment of mild to moderate depression indicates that both are equally helpful.

Different Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other civilizations have long regarded saffron and other spices as aphrodisiacs. Saffron is traditionally used as a sexual stimulant by Chinese, Phoenicians, and Muslims. The aqueous stigma extract of C. sativus and its components, safranal, and crocin, were tested for their aphrodisiac properties. It indicatesHealth Benefits that saffron can safely and successfully treat some sexual issues that fluoxetine can cause in women, such as arousal, lubrication, or pain. Even after just 10 days of treatment, saffron has demonstrated a beneficial impact on sexual function with a rise in the quantity and length of erections in erectile dysfunction patients.

Major saffaron benefit also include its antioxidant activity. Crocin and crocetin are two examples of carotenoids, which operate as natural antioxidants and have a significant impact on health. They shield tissues and cells from reactive oxygen species and free radical damaging effects (ROS). Health Benefits Regarding the antioxidant capabilities of saffron, crocin is the active component that has been most researched. It works in concert with other substances including safranal, dimethylcrocetin, and flavonoids, and hence does not act alone. Since the brain is the organ most exposed to oxidation due to the high phospholipid content of neuronal membranes and the connection with the emergence of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, other studies concentrated on the detrimental effects of oxidative stress on our brain.Dietary saffron use can help treat Alzheimer’s disease by preventing the formation and deposition of amyloid peptide in human brain tissue.

Cancer is the worlds most common cause of death.  According to epidemiological data, a diet high in antioxidants is associated with a lower incidence of morbidity and mortality. Saffron is one of the natural treatments that have anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic properties without having any cytotoxic effects on healthy cells thanks to its components, particularly its carotenoids. The ability to cause apoptosis in different tumor cells has been found in a wide range of natural compounds.Among the many biological characteristics associated with saffron use, those anti-carcinogens are of particular interest and have undergone considerable in vitro and in vivo testing. Abdullayev et al. discovered that naturally occurring saffron extract when combined with either sodium selenite or sodium arsenite, two manufactured substances, may have a synergistic impact with saffron and so play a significant role in cancer chemotherapy prevention. Additionally, Botsoglou showed that the inhibitory effects of saffron against several cancer cells were dose-dependent. Prior to the administration of anti-tumor medications, such as cisplatin, saffron pretreatment for five days in a row dramatically reduced anti-tumor drug-induced cellular DNA damage.

Saffron benefits has been said to includes its effect on the gastrointestinal and genital systems, including enhancing digestion, lowering hunger, curing hemorrhoids, treating anus prolapse, preventing intestinal fermentations, treating amenorrhea, promoting menstruation, and its abortifacient properties. Safranal lowered the surface of stomach ulcers, balanced gastric volume, and pH, and created gastric protection. Additionally, it proved effective in ameliorating the biochemical abnormalities of tissues and the histological changes brought on by indomethacin.

Natural substances, such as dietary supplements and herbal therapies, which have been used for generations to alleviate pain and inflammation, are of significant interest. Saffron tinctures and extracts have been used to treat gingivitis, abscesses, lower back discomfort, fever, sores, and pain associated with the eruption of a baby’s first tooth. Stigma and saffron flower aqueous and alcoholic extracts have antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects for both acute and chronic pain.

One of the hard-to-regulate eating behaviors is nibbling, which increases the risk of weight gain, obesity (motapa) , and related metabolic issues (dyslipidemia, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, circulatory disorders, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, etc.). It primarily affects females and is typically connected to stress. Because saffron contains crocetin, it indirectly reduces blood cholesterol levels and the severity of atherosclerosis, which lessens the risk of a heart attack. The suppression of pancreatic lipase, which reduces the absorption of fats and cholesterol, is the cause of crocin’s hypolipidemic action.

Saffaron uses includes its use in controlling cholesterol. Saffron has been found to provide anti-obesity and anorectic benefits in obese rat models, according to earlier studies.This is owing to its impact on calorie intake reduction through the inhibition of pancreatic lipase; the sense of satiety brought on by the elevated level of neurotransmitters, and not to mention its function in improving glucose and lipid metabolism. Crocin also controls the weight ratio of body fat to the epididymis and has been proven to significantly slow down the rate of body weight increase.

By preventing compensatory hyperinsulinemia, the use of high-dose crocetin (40 mg/kg) prevents the development of insulin resistance; in addition, it limits dyslipidemia by keeping the values of free fatty acids, triglycerides, and LDL-c (Low-Density Lipoprotein) within normal ranges and prevents hypertension caused by a diet supplemented with fructose.

Saffaron benefits in treatment of burns is also proved by studies. In a study to assess the efficacy of saffron extract cream in the treatment of heat-induced burns, the outcomes were contrasted with those of rats given silver sulfadiazine (SSD). The saffron group’s wound size was noticeably smaller than the other groups. Saffron dramatically enhanced the re-epithelialization of burn wounds when compared to other therapies, according to histological analysis.

Different cultures have long used saffron to treat a variety of eye conditions, including corneal disease, itchy eyes, cataracts, and purulent eye infections. The kohl pencil was utilized in ancient Egypt. Even now, people use it to create black eyes. In reality, eastern ladies utilized it to defend themselves against assaults from the sun, wind, sand, and perhaps even ocular illnesses. In reality, kohl was an extremely fine powder made by crushing antimony, rosewood, saffron, and cloves. According to recent studies, saffron extract can increase blood circulation and retinal function while reducing eye illnesses such as cataracts, retinal degeneration, and light-mediated photoreceptor cell death.(Mzabri et al., 2019)

Cosmetology and Perfumery Uses of Saffron

Saffron has recently gained increased interest due to its application in cosmetics. Saffron has been used for cosmetic purposes since ancient times. It can be applied topically or absorbed by infusion. It can also be combined with fat or macerated in donkey milk to achieve the effects of eternal youth. It was an ingredient in Cleopatra’s cosmetics. Saffron is used to treat erysipelas and to improve skin tone in traditional Iranian medicine. It is used in traditional Greek medicine to treat wounds, a variety of skin conditions, and acne. It can also be used to rejuvenate the skin on the face. The physique may also appear fresher and younger. Bindi was made by Hindu women using saffron Health Benefits (the yellow dot on their foreheads). It resembles the third eye in a way, signifying luck and conscience. Saffron tepals are now known to be abundant in crocin and kaempferol, making them a significant source of bioactive ingredients for conceivable cosmetic compositions. Saffron has many potential uses for cosmetic applications in addition to its antioxidant qualities. The following is a list of the most promising activities.

Anti-UV Agent

 

Anti-sun property is one of the major saffron benefits Saffron can shield the skin from dangerous UV radiation. Because prolonged sun exposure exposes the skin to UV rays, which are known to cause significant lesions, it is exceedingly dangerous. According to studies, homosalate may not be the best sunscreen, but saffron lotion may be (an organic compound used in some sunscreens). Saffron can therefore be utilized as a natural UV absorber. Saffron’s antioxidant qualities make it helpful for the prevention of skin cancer in addition to its anti-solar and moisturizing benefits.

Redness of Dark Spots

 

Melanin production is reported to be decreased by saffron. As a result, it works wonders to lighten the skin. The C. sativus extract-containing mixture had a noticeable depigmenting and antiarrhythmic impact on human skin. The two pigments eumelanin and phaeomelanin, which are (brown-black) and (red-yellow), respectively, are combined by melanocytes to generate melanin in the skin. Multiple oxidative processes regulated by different enzymes result in the process of melanogenesis. The primary initiator of this process is tyrosinase. Monoterpenoids, crocin, quercetin, kaempferol, and other phenolic substances found in C. sativus all display antioxidant action. These substances work by suppressing the activity of tyrosinase to diminish skin melanin.

Anti-Aging Effect and Diseases of the Skin

 

Saffron can be soaked with a few basil leaves in herbal cosmetics to heal blemishes like acne. An efficient method to exfoliate and enhance blood circulation for the face skin is to combine soaked saffron strands with virgin coconut oil, or olive oil, and a little bit of raw milk. The skin ailment known as erythema, which is characterized by inflammation, redness, or rash, is reported to be lessened by saffron use. Saffron contains several antioxidants that may prevent the development of inflammatory indicators such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin. The treatment of melanoma may benefit from the application of the formulation containing 3 percent C. sativus extract to human skin. Similar outcomes have been reported by Moshiri et al., who discovered that saffron was more effective than a placebo in clinical studies for its anti-pruritic and skin-promoting benefits.

Perfumery

 

When dried, the spice emits a delightful perfume that the Greeks appreciated and which Aristophanes called a “sensual smell”. The note “saffron” is derived from safranal, the primary odoriferous component of saffron. Saffron was a royal color and was applied as a perfume in salons, palaces, theatres, and toilets in ancient Greece (c. 2000–146 BC). Later, common people began to use it. The Parthian Dynasty also employed saffron as one of the components of a royal fragrance, which included a cooling oil face for monarchs and ceremonial leaders. In today’s perfumes, both feminine and masculine, we can find this woody, sweet note that is harmonic and has the potential to be unique and exotic.

Saffron as Natural Pigments in Cosmetics

 

Plant pigments have been used for ages to color food and cosmetics, including curcumin, beet anthocyanins, carotenoids from peppers, chlorophyll from green leaves, and saffron. Many commercially available cosmetics today contain synthetic coloring agents, which, when used for an extended period, might have negative side effects. However, the current fashion is for these cosmetic products to have healthful natural elements. Due to its expensive price, saffron has only been used sparingly in cosmetics. Saffron benefit over turmeric is that when turmeric would fade from exposure to light, it has been used as a replacement. It is also utilized as a tartrazine replacement.(Mzabri et al., 2019)

Other Uses of Saffron

Culinary Use

 

The majority of saffron production has been and continues to be utilized in cookery worldwide, dating back to antiquity. Chefs and saffron experts say it has a honey-like aroma with metallic undertones. India, Iran, Spain, and other nations utilize saffron as a rice condiment. It is a common ingredient in many Spanish cuisines, including the rice-based Paella Valenciana and the fish-based zarzuela. Additionally, saffron is used in saffron cake, a spicy fish soup, Italian Milanese risotto, and French bouillabaisse. Saffron is used in the national dish of Iran, chelow kabab. Saffron is used in Indian cuisine’s biryanis, which are traditional rice-based dishes.Additionally, it’s a component of several candies like kulfi and gulabjaman. In Morocco, saffron is used as a spice in a variety of traditional recipes, such as koftas (meatballs with tomatoes) or mrouzia. It is also substituted for mint in tea (a sweet-salty dish made from mutton or dill). Saffron is also a key component of the chermoula herb mixture that gives many Moroccan recipes their signature flavor.

Coloring Power

 

Synthetic food dyes have been banned in several countries due to their detrimental effects, and natural hues are now being used again. Due to crocine’s high solubility in water, the use of saffron as a dye substitute is favorable in the agro-food industry. As a result, for a very long time, butter, pasta, cheeses, and oleomargarines have been colored using the potent coloring ability of saffron, which might also be utilized in cosmetics. Saffron is a golden yellow color that is used in textiles and painting. Despite being in an acidic or alkaline environment, saffron solutions typically remain stable. Dicarboxylic acids, esters, nitrogen compounds, and crocin’s pKa (acid dissociation constant) are all responsible for this feature. Solutions containing saffron buffers slow down cellulose oxidation. Buddhist monks’ clothing, as well as silk, wool, and Oriental carpets, are still dyed with saffron today. Natural dyes are less harmful and allergic than some synthetic dyes, and they are more environmentally friendly and biodegradable.(Mzabri et al., 2019)

Risks, precautions, and dosage

 

Saffron often has few to no negative side effects. Saffron doesn’t appear to have any negative effects on humans when used in regular cooking amounts. People can safely consume up to 1.5 grams of saffron per day as a dietary supplement. However, it has been demonstrated that just 30 mg of saffron daily is sufficient to receive its health benefits. When consumed in amounts larger than 5 g, it is regarded as poisonous, and taking 20 g of it every day can be lethal. Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are symptoms of mild saffron toxicity, however more severe toxicity can result in numbness, tingling, and yellowing of the skin and eyes due to the yellow pigments that have precipitated on the skin and conjunctiva. Uncontrollable bleeding may also be a sign.

The possibility of saffron being adulterated (combined) with other components, such as beet, red-dyed silk fibers, turmeric, and paprika, is another problem with saffron, particularly saffron powder. Since real saffron is costly to harvest, adulteration allows manufacturers to operate more profitably. To receive genuine saffron, it’s crucial to get it from a reputed company. Avoid using saffron if it seems to be excessively inexpensive.(Mzabri et al., 2019)

Zafran / Saffron containing Unani Formulations

Dawaul Kurkum Kabir

Action and uses

 

Dawaul Kurkum Kabir is helpful for liver and spleen conditions that are primarily brought on by coldness. It consists of Muqavvi Gurda (renal tonic), Muqavvi Masana (a tonic for the urinary bladder), and Muqavvi Jiger (Liver tonic). Additionally advantageous in Istisqa (ascites). It is Mohallil Riyah and Mufatteh Sudad (Carminative & Debstruent).

Dawaul Kurkum Sagheer

Action and uses

 

Dawaul Kurkum Sagheer is helpful for liver and spleen conditions that are primarily brought on by coldness. It consists of Muqavvi Gurda (kidney tonic), Muqavvi Masana (a tonic for the urinary bladder), and Muqavvi Jiger (Liver tonic). Additionally advantageous in Istisqa (Dropsy). It is Mohallil Riyah and Mufatteh Sudad (Carminative & Debstruent).

Dawaul Misk Motadil Sada

Action and uses

 

Dawaul Misk Motadil Sada is particularly used in Melancholic Palpitation (Khafqan Saudavi). It is Cardiac tonic (Muqavvi Qalb), Liver tonic (Muqavvi Jiger) and Gastric tonic (Muqavvi Meda).

Habbe Jadwar

Action and uses

 

Saffron Uses include Zofe Bah (Sexual Weakness), Jiryan (Spermatorrhea), Sual (Cough), and Nazla Muzmin (Chronic Cold), Muqavvi Aaza Raisa (Vital Organs Tonic) and Muqavvi Bah (Aphrodisiac).

Jawarish Jalinus

Action and uses

 

Muqavvi Jiger (Liver tonic), Muqavvi Meda (Gastric tonic), and Muqavvi Bah (Aphrodisiac).Jawarish Jalinus for Amraz Meda (Gastric disorders), Dard Meda (Gastralgia), Sooe Hazm (Dyspepsia), Riyah (Gases), Zofe Bah (Sex Weakness), Amraz Jiger (Liver Disorder), and Amraz Balghamia (Phlegmatic diseases)

Jawarish Ood Tursh

Action and uses

 

Reduces meda secretion, excess bile, and mushtahi (Appetizer). Jawarish Ood Tursh is used for Sue Hazm and Joo-ulbaqar (Dyspepsia & Excessive Hunger)

Jawarish Ood Sheereen

Action and uses

 

Hazim (digestive aid), Mushtahi (appetiser), and Muqavvi Meda (gastric tonic). Jawarish Ood Sheereen in Zofe Meda (Stomach Weakness), Reduced Gastric Secretion

Jawarish Zar-Ooni Sada

Action and uses

 

Jawarish Zar-Ooni Sada is distinctive as Muqavvi Gurda (Renal tonic). Used in frequent urination, excessive urination, and renal issues Muqavvi Jiger (Liver tonic), Muqavvi Meda (Gastric tonic), and Muqavvi Dimagh (Brain tonic).

Khameera Abresham Sheera Unnab Wala

Action and uses

 

Hafiza Muqavvi (Memory enhancer). It helps with palpitations, TB, and dry cough. Furthermore,Khameera Abresham Sheera Unnab Wala helps with stomach problems.

Khameera Abresham Hakim Arshad wala

Action and uses

 

In Amraz Qalb (Cardiac Ailments), Khafqan (Palpitation), Malekholia (Melancholia), and Nazla (Catarrh), in the summer. Khameera Abresham Hakim Arshad wala is employed as Muqavvi Jiger, a liver tonic, Muqavvi Qalb, a heart tonic, Muqavvi Dimagh, a brain tonic, and Muqavvi Aaza Raisa (Vital organ tonic).(Kabir, 2003)

Endnote

 

Saffron is a costly and rare herb. It has some anti-oxidant chemicals, which could help lower the chance of developing several chronic illnesses linked to oxidative stress. Little evidence exists to support the claim that these antioxidants are any more advantageous to the body than those that may be obtained by just eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. Saffron may also enhance sexual performance, lessen PMS symptoms, and increase mood in certain people, though more research is needed on these effects.

  1. Saffron – Wikipedia [Online]. En.wikipedia.org. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron [Accessed 03/08/22].

KABIR, D. H. 2003. Morakkabat

(Unani Formulations), India, y Shamsher Publisher and Distributors.

MZABRI, I., ADDI, M. & BERRICHI, A. 2019. Traditional and modern uses of saffron (Crocus sativus). Cosmetics, 6, 63.

XING, B., LI, S., YANG, J., LIN, D., FENG, Y., LU, J. & SHAO, Q. 2021. Phytochemistry, pharmacology, and potential clinical applications of saffron: A review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 281, 114555.

Top