I crave saffron and have loved this spice for many years but stopped buying it because it's expensive. I know you are educated about herbs; can you tell me if there are any health benefits? - T.S., Ocala, Fla.
Great question, I love saffron, too! So precious and resilient is saffron that this centuries-old flower extract is even mentioned in the Bible. Harvested from a type of crocus (Crocus sativus L), the spice is actually the three tiny red stamens that must be plucked by hand from the center of each flower. It's the most expensive spice you can buy.
Saffron imparts a distinctive taste and aroma along with a lovely yellow color to a variety of exotic dishes. I stir it into rice, soups and teas. As a pharmacist who pays attention to alternative remedies, I can't help but note that any herb that's been used for centuries likely has something going for it. Sure enough, researchers are starting to verify the amazing healing potential of saffron in clinical studies.
In Iran, for example, researchers have found that saffron lifted depression as well as fluoxetine (Prozac). For both the herb and the drug "the remission rate was 25 percent." If you have mild or moderate depression why not give it a try? It won't interact with medicine as far as I can tell, but do consult your physician.
Saffron is a super-strong antioxidant with "housekeeping" benefits that clean you up from head to toe. Pay attention here because I'm going to summarize the research. Saffron has anti-cancer effects, for all sorts of tumors. It enhances male fertility. It helps relieve anxiety and tension. And ladies, it eases the discomforts of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In Texas, researchers proved that saffron improves circulation to the retina so it's a promising treatment for macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness. One clinical trial concluded "preliminary evidence of a possible therapeutic effect of saffron extract in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease." It's also an anti-spasmodic. Whew! Do you see why I think saffron is one of the best kept health secrets?
If you'd like to try a saffron supplement - and I've just begun taking one myself - make sure you buy from a reputable company, such as Exir. I have to warn you, pure authentic saffron is expensive, but worth it. Fake makers of it cut the saffron with other yellow-orange spices but Exir is 100 percent saffron, and they source from organic flowers. It's not popular (yet) so you will need to ask your local health food store to order it, or just buy it online at epicuregarden.com.
Did You Know?
Pain-relieving medications should be taken with food to minimize stomach upset and nausea, a very common side effect.