Saffron is a plant. The dried stigmas (thread-like parts of the flower) are used to make saffron spice. It can take 75,000 saffron blossoms to produce a single pound of saffron spice. Saffron is largely cultivated and harvested by hand. Due to the amount of labor involved in harvesting, saffron is considered one of the world’s most expensive spices. The stigmas, and sometimes the petals, are also used to make medicine.
People use saffron most commonly for depression, anxiety, Alzheimer disease, menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Saffron is also used for many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
In foods, saffron is used as a spice, yellow food coloring, and as a flavoring agent.
In manufacturing, saffron extracts are used as fragrance in perfumes and as a dye for cloth.
How does it work ?
Saffron contains chemicals that alter mood, kill cancer cells, decrease swelling, and act like antioxidants.
- Alzheimer disease. Taking a specific saffron extract by mouth for up to 22 weeks seems to improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Saffron might work about as well as the prescription drug donepezil (Aricept).
- Depression. Research shows that taking saffron by mouth for 6-12 weeks improves symptoms of depression. Early research in patients already taking an antidepressant shows that adding saffron extract further improves symptoms of depression. But taking saffron might not help people that have both anxiety and depression.
- Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). Some research shows the taking a specific product containing saffron, anise, and celery seed reduces pain during the menstrual cycle.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some research shows that taking a specific saffron extract improves symptoms of PMS after two menstrual cycles.
When taken by mouth: Saffron is LIKELY SAFE in food amounts. Saffron is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken as a medicine for up to 26 weeks. Some possible side effects include dry mouth, anxiety, agitation, drowsiness, low mood, sweating, nausea or vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, change in appetite, flushing, and headache. Allergic reactions can occur in some people.
Taking large amounts of saffron by mouth is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. High doses of 5 grams or more can cause poisoning. Doses of 12-20 grams can cause death.
When applied to the skin: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if saffron is safe or what the side effects might be.