Saffron is obtained from the flowers of the saffron crocus plant, which grows mainly in Spain and France. It is also often used as a spice. The herb is also sometimes manufactured into a dried powder and sold as a supplement for a variety of health improvement purposes.
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According to “Nursing Herbal Remedy Handbook” saffron contains vitamins B-1 and B-2, essential oils and phytochemicals, which are antioxidant-dense chemicals produced in plants that are thought to help prevent disease in humans. The phytochemicals found in saffron help to support your immune system and protect your body from free radical-induced damage, cancer and infections.
As a Spice
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. It is sold either powdered or as whole stigmas. The ancient Romans used to perfume their baths with saffron and court ladies used to tint their hair with it. It is commonly used today in cooking, and the brighter red the spice is, the higher the quality. A little goes a long way when you are cooking with saffron. A pinch of the spice can be added to soups, stews, risotto and rice dishes, as well as to any tomato-based sauce. Saffron is considered an especially good addition to seafood dishes, such as paella and bouillabaisse.
As a Nutritional Supplement
Saffron is thought to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices in the stomach and may therefore help to enhance digestion. Taken as a supplement, it may also produce a sedative effect, prevent cancer and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to the "Nursing Herbal Medicine Handbook.” It may also help to treat amenorrhea, atherosclerosis, depression, fever, gas, headaches, indigestion, pain, painful menstruation, premature ejaculation and vomiting. Saffron is also purported to promote upper respiratory tract health and help to treat asthma, bronchitis, sore throats and whooping cough. Finally, saffron is used topically to help with certain conditions, such as baldness and dry skin. The benefits of saffron are often exaggerated and more research needs to be done to confirm the efficacy of saffron for these purposes.
While a normal use of saffron in food is thought to be safe, medicinal uses of saffron may cause unwanted side effects. Saffron supplements may cause an increase or decrease in appetite, anxiety, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. High doses of saffron may also cause toxicity reactions, such as jaundice, a spinning sensation, bloody diarrhea and urine, nose bleeds or severe confusion. Saffron has abortifacient properties, which means it is an herb that helps to stimulate abortion. For safety purposes, you should consult your health-care practitioner before supplementing with saffron.