Medical Herbs Catalogue



Botanical Name: Crocus sativus
Family: N.O. Iridaceae

Synonyms: Crocus. Karcom. Krokos.
(Arabian) Zaffer.
Part Used: Flower pistils.

The true Saffron is a low ornamental plant with grass-like leaves and large lily-shaped flowers, inhabiting the European continent, and frequently cultivated for the sake of the yellow stigmas, which are the part used in medicine, in domestic economy and in the arts.

Saffron is the Karcom of the Hebrews (Song of Solomon iv. 14). The plant was also known to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

In the course of an inquest held in 1921 at Poplar (London, E.), a medical witness testified to the prevalence of a domestic custom of giving Saffron 'tea' flavoured with brandy in cases of measles.

The Emplastrum Oxycroceum of the Edinburgh Pharmacopceia contained, in olden days, a large proportion of Saffron (from which - and vinegar - it derived its name), with the addition of colophony, gum ammoniacum, mastic and vinegar.

Saffron was imported to England from the East many centuries ago, and was once grown extensively round Saffron Walden, in Essex. One smoke-pervaded spot in the heart of London still bears the name of 'Saffron Hill.' It is a somewhat expensive product, the economic value residing in the stigmas of the flower, of which it is said 60,000 are needed to make 1 lb. of Saffron.

According to Dr. Pereira, a grain of good commercial Saffron contains the stigmas and styles of nine flowers, and consequently 4,320 flowers are required to yield 1 OZ. of Saffron! English-grown Saffron is now very seldom met with in commerce; the best comes from Spain, while that imported from France is usually considered of second-rate quality. The quantity imported has been computed at between 5,000 and 20,000 lb. weight per annum. Saffron has a bitter taste and a penetrating aromatic odour.

Lately, Persian Saffron has made its appearance in the English market - although of rare occurrence - owing to the high and increasing price of the European article. It has long been known as a wild product of Persia, and was formerly sent from that country and Kashmir to Bombay, but was driven out of the market by the superior Saffrons of Europe.

Saffron was cultivated at Derbena and Ispahan in Persia in the tenth century. It differs a little in appearance from European Saffron in being rather more slender and in the unbranched part of the style being paler, but the characteristic odour is remarkably strong. On immersion in water it does not seem to give out so much colour as European Saffron, and could only compete with it if the price enabled it to be used in sufficient quantity to give a colour equal to that used in Europe. The wild Persian crocus is the variety Hausknechtii, which occurs on the Delechani and Sangur mountains between Kermanshah and Hamada in West Persia, and at Karput in Kurdistan, which is the most easterly point where any form of Crocus sativus occurs in the wild state.

It may be mentioned that five forms of C. sativus are known in the wild state. (1) Var. Orsinii, which may be regarded as the Italian form and is found at Ascoli, the most westerly point from which any wild form of the plant is recorded. It nearly resembles the cultivated type in purplish colour and habit, but the stigmas are erect and do not hang out between the segments of the perianth, as in the cultivated plant. (2) Var. Cartwrightianus, a Greek form common in the Piraeus, in which the flowers are smaller and paler, but the stigma is erect and longer than the stamens, as in the cultivated plant. (3) Var. Pallasii, a still smaller form with pale flowers and smaller corms, the stigmas being nearly always shorter than the stamens. It is the commonest of the wild forms, extending through Bulgaria to the Crimea, and reaching Italy on the west. (4) Var. Elwesii. This is similar to the last, but has short stigmas and larger flowers, and occurs in Asia Minor. (5) Var. Hausknechtii. This, like Nos. 1 and 2, has long stigmas, but the perianth is usually white; it may be regarded as the Persian form, extending from West Persia to Kurdistan. But records of the collection of Saffron from the wild plants are wanting. Only Nos. 1, 2 and 5 are fitted for collection in having long stigmas, but the cultivated purple-flowered form with its stigmas hanging outside the flower would naturally be the easiest to collect, and it would only be the wild varieties from Italy, Greece and Persia that could be utilized. There is no doubt that the cultivated form is also grown from France to Kashmir, whence it was introduced from Persia, and also that it is largely cultivated in Burma (near the Youngaline River at Kuzeih, about ten miles from Pahun) and in China. But it is not always a paying crop, as it does not produce seeds unless cross-fertilized, and the corms are subject to disease if grown in the same ground too long.

In these circumstances it is quite likely that the Persian Saffron at present offered in commerce may have been derived from the wild Persian form, var. Hausknechtii; at all events, the pale, almost white, lower part of the styles gives it a characteristic appearance.

These details concerning the different forms are largely taken from the Chemist and Druggist of March 29, 1924.

Cultivation: The corms are planted in rows, 6 inches apart from corm to corm, in a well-pulverized soil, neither poor nor a very stiff clay, and in the month of July. The flowers are collected in September and the yellow stigmas and part of the style are picked out and dried on a kiln between layers of paper and under the pressure of a thick board, to form the mass into cakes. Two pounds of dried cake is the average crop of an - acre after the first planting, and 24 lb. for the next two years. After the third crop the roots are taken up, divided and transplanted.

The Arabs, who introduced the cultivation of the Saffron Crocus into Spain as an article of commerce, bequeathed to us its modern title of Zaffer, or 'Saffron,' but the Greeks and Romans called it Krokos and Karkom respectively.

To the nations of Eastern Asia, its yellow dye was the perfection of beauty, and its odour a perfect ambrosia. 'Saffron yellow shoes formed part of the dress of the Persian Kings,' says Professor Hehn. Greek myths and poetry exhibit an extravagant admiration of the colour and perfume. Homer sings 'the Saffron morn'; gods and goddesses, heroes and nymphs and vestals, are clothed in robes of Saffron hue. The Saffron of Lydia, Cilicia and Cyrene was much prized. The scent was valued as much as the dye; saffron water was sprinkled on the benches of the theatre, the floors of banqueting-halls were strewn with crocus leaves, and cushions were stuffed with it.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue. Used as a diaphoretic for children and for chronic haemorrhage of the uterus in adults.

Preparations: Powdered Saffron: Tincture, B.P., 5 to 15 drops.