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 are also used to make medicine.
Saffron is used for asthma, cough, whooping cough (pertussis), and to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant). It is also used for sleep problems (insomnia), cancer, “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), intestinal gas (flatulence), depression, Alzheimer’s disease, fright, shock, spitting up blood (hemoptysis), pain, heartburn, and dry skin.
Women use saffron for menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Men use it to prevent early orgasm (premature ejaculation) and infertility.
Saffron is also used for to increase interest in sex (as an aphrodisiac) and to induce sweating.
Some people apply saffron directly to the scalp for baldness (alopecia).
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.
Uses & Effectiveness
Possibly Effective for
- Alzheimer’s disease. Some research shows that taking a specific saffron product (IMPIRAN, Iran) by mouth for 22 weeks might improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease about as well as the prescription drug donepezil (Aricept).
- Depression. Taking specific saffron extracts (Novin Zaferan Co, Iran) by mouth seems to improve symptoms of major depression after 6-8 weeks of treatment. Some studies suggest that saffron might be as effective as taking a low-dose prescription antidepressant such as fluoxetine or imipramine.
- Menstrual discomfort. Some research shows the taking a specific product containing saffron, anise, and celery seed (SCA, Gol Daro Herbal Medicine Laboratory) reduces pain during the menstrual cycle.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some research shows that taking a specific saffron extract (Department of Cultivation and Development of Institute of Medicinal Plants, Iran) improves symptoms of PMS after two menstrual cycles.
Insufficient Evidence for
- Asthma. Some early research suggests that drinking an herbal tea mixture containing saffron along with anise, black seed, caraway, cardamom, chamomile, fennel, and licorice may reduce asthma symptoms in people with allergic asthma.
- Athletic performance. Some early research shows that taking a chemical from saffron called crocetin might decrease fatigue in men during exercise.
- Erectile dysfunction. Some early research suggests that taking saffron might reduce erectile dysfunction and increase the number and duration of erections.
- Male infertility. Some research suggests that saffron might improve sperm function in men. However, the research has been inconsistent.
- Psoriasis. Some early research suggests that drinking saffron tea daily, along with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, might reduce the severity of psoriasis.
- “Hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis).
- Stomach gas.
- Early male orgasm (premature ejaculation).
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
Saffron is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth as a medicine for up to 6 weeks. Some possible side effects include dry mouth, anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, change in appetite, and headache. Allergic reactions can occur in some people.
Taking large amounts of saffron by mouth is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. High doses can cause poisoning, including yellow appearance of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes; vomiting; dizziness; bloody diarrhea; bleeding from the nose, lips, and eyelids; numbness; and other serious side effects. Doses of 12-20 grams can cause death.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Taking saffron by mouth in amounts larger than what is normally found in food is LIKELY UNSAFE. Larger amounts of saffron can make the uterus contract and might cause a miscarriage.
Not enough is known about the safety of using saffron during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Bipolar disorder: Saffron seems to be able to affect mood. There is a concern that it might trigger excitability and impulsive behavior (mania) in people with bipolar disorder. Don’t use saffron if you have this condition.
Allergies to Lolium, Olea (includes olive), and Salsola plant species: People who are allergic to these plants might also be allergic to saffron.
Heart conditions: Saffron might affect how fast and how strong the heart beats. Taking large amounts of saffron might worsen some heart conditions.
Low blood pressure: Saffron might lower blood pressure. Taking saffron might make blood pressure become too low in people with low blood pressure.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For depression: 30 mg/day of a specific saffron extract (Novin Zaferan Co, Iran). A different saffron extract 15 mg twice daily has also been used.
- For premenstrual syndrome (PMS): 15 mg of a specific ethanol saffron extract twice daily (Department of Cultivation and Development of Institute of Medicinal Plants, Tehran, Iran).
- For menstrual discomfort: 500 mg of a specific combination product containing saffron, celery seed and anise extracts (SCA, Gol Daro Herbal Medicine Laboratory) taken three times a day for the first three days of menstruation.
- For Alzheimer’s disease: 30 mg/day of a specific saffron product (IMPIRAN, Iran).