Saffron is one of those ubiquitous herbs touted by chefs and extremely expensive. But if you’ve heard of it, have you ever tried enough to know what it tastes like?
While people always seem to crave chocolate or soy sauce or mangos or salt, I have never heard a single person say, “I could really use some saffron on this lamb chop.” But they should. Not only is saffron very tasty, it is also packed with surprising natural healing properties.
What Is Saffron?
Known for its brilliant golden-yellow color, saffron is the stigma (dried flower threads) of the saffron crocus plant, a perennial. Legend places its origin in southern Europe, though today it is cultivated in many countries, including India, Greece, Turkey, Spain, France and Middle Eastern nations. Prized for its flavor and rarity, saffron requires meticulous cultivation under specific conditions, making it the among the world’s most expensive herbs. You need 150,000 flowers to produce a mere 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of saffron, costing the end user more than $4,000 per pound.
Health Components Of Saffron
Saffron contains antioxidants, essential volatile oils, carotenoids, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium potassium, selenium, Vitamins A, C, B, folic acid and niacin. This combination of essential components, vitamins and minerals makes saffron effective in acting as an antiseptic, antidepressant, antioxidant and anti-spasmodic. Saffron also supports digestion, red blood cell production, heart rate and healthy blood pressure. It is believed to help control cholesterol and triglycerides while lowering the risk of cancer.
The carotenoid component of saffron is particularly important. Carotenoids are a group of more than 700 different fat-soluble nutritive pigments that give colorful fruits and vegetables their attractive hues.
Carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, kale and other colorful veggies are packed with carotenoids. The most are beta carotene (the orange color in carrots) and lycopene (the red in tomatoes).
Carotenoids protect from cells from damage, enhance immune function and regulate the reproductive system. The carotenoids found in saffron are thought to enhance its benefits against skin tumors and arthritis. They also may improve vision.
Weight Loss Benefits
A recent study on saffron published in Life Extension Magazine showed another benefits to saffron: weight loss. However, before getting overly enthused about this finding, consider the reason saffron can help with weight loss. The published studies are placebo-controlled and reveal that 176.5 mg per day of saffron may decrease snacking by an average of 55 percent. Obviously, less food means fewer calories, which means better weight control.
It is important to note that ingesting saffron daily helps tamp down the eating syndrome called reactional hyperphagia (eating to cope with stress). Stress can be a harmful stimulant that causes the body to release a wide range of chemicals. Over time, these hormones can cause weight gain around the midsection and lead to increased pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety and other negative health events.
The study suggests that saffron can help to restore serotonin activity in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with improved mental sensations. It is believed that stress anxiety and insomnia can lead to reduced production of serotonin.
Impaired serotonin is also thought to be a cause of migraines, depression, chronic fatigue and other potentially serious health issues. Saffron’s regulatory effect on serotonin is believed to restore balance to the appetite, regulating biochemicals in the body.
Consequently, the nutrients in saffron can help you cope with stress and anxiety by curbing the need to eat as a stress response.
A Saffron Supply
While saffron is very expensive by the pound, only small amounts are needed for health benefits. You can cook with it, order food prepared with it or buy it in various teas and extracts. If you decided to take a saffron supplement, check the source of the saffron and the amount of actual saffron in the product. There seem to be a few fake saffron products being sold, so do a bit of research into products online if you want to add saffron to your wellness plan.
Saffron has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years in India. That traditional use is testimony to its benefits.