Saffron has widespread traditional uses. It has demonstrated efficacy in mild to moderate depression; however, a limited number of quality clinical trials exist. Potential exists for a role in the treatment of cancer and age-related macular degeneration.

Clinical trials are lacking to guide dosage of saffron. A dosage of 30 mg daily in 2 divided doses has been investigated for the treatment of mild to moderate depression and in premenstrual syndrome. Doses of up to 1.5 g/day of saffron are thought to be safe; toxic effects have been reported at 5 g.

Contraindications have not yet been identified. High doses should be avoided in pregnancy.

Avoid use. Amounts of more than 5 g, which is greater than amounts used in food, have uterine stimulant and abortifacient effects. There is no information regarding use in lactation.

None well documented. Interaction with platelet antiaggregating drugs is theoretically possible. Crocetin binds strongly to serum albumin.

Adverse Reactions
Clinical trials evaluating saffron in depression at dosages of 30 mg daily reported no statistically significant adverse events versus either placebo or comparator drugs. Reported adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, and headache. Death has resulted from the ingestion of doses of more than 10 g. Allergic reactions are uncommon; however, occupational allergy, including rhinoconjunctivitis, bronchial asthma, and cutaneous pruritus, has been reported. Case reports of anaphylaxis exist.

Information is limited.

True saffron is native to Asia Minor (Anatolia) and southern Europe, with the majority of the world production based in Iran. Its blue-violet, lily-shaped flowers contain the orange stigmas (part of the pistil) and red style branches that are collected to produce the saffron spice. The plant is a bulbous perennial and grows 15 to 20 cm in height. Mature stigmas are collected by hand during a short blooming season. Over 200,000 dried stigmas, obtained from about 70,000 flowers, yield 0.5 kg of true saffron. Saffron may cost as much as $30 per ounce in the American market.

True saffron should not be confused with Carthamus tinctorius L. (family Asteraceae), also called American saffron (safflower, Indian safflower), that is produced from the tubular florets and is a lighter red than true saffron. The two are often used for the same purposes, and the less expensive American saffron is sometimes used to adulterate true saffron.