Saffron Poisoning

colorful piles of spices sold in spice market
A variety of herbal spices, including saffron. (Image: eriyalim/iStock/Getty Images)

Native to the Mediterranean, saffron is a orange-yellow spice commonly used as both a food additive and as a medicinal treatment. Traditionally, saffron has been used to alleviate menstruation discomfort, mood problems and muscle spasms. More research is needed, however, to support these purported medicinal benefits. Taking too much of this medicinal herb, moreover, can cause severe poisoning symptoms. Discuss the potentially toxic effects of large doses of saffron with your medical provider before taking this herbal supplement.

Cause

Saffron is generally viewed as safe when used as flavoring in food or as a medicinal supplement of up to 1.5 g daily. To avoid saffron poisoning or toxicity, do not take therapeutic doses of saffron in excess of 5 g daily, the website Drugs.com advises. Usually, saffron poisoning symptoms arise after you take more than 5 g in a single dose. Saffron is lethal if taken as a 20 g dose. The toxic effects of saffron are likely attributable to specific components of the essential oil, such as safranal and protocrocin, Dietrich Frohne and Hans Jurge Pfander write in their book "Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians."

Mild Symptoms

Initial mild symptoms of saffron poisoning include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms usually arise shortly after taking a toxic dose of saffron and may persist for several hours. You may also notice small amounts of blood in your stool. If these symptoms continue for more than a day, seek care from a doctor.

Severe Symptoms

If you take too much saffron, you may progressively develop more severe symptoms. You may experience unusual sensations of numbness or tingling beginning in your hands or feet. Jaundice may also occur, which causes your eyes and skin to take on a yellowish hue. You may experience bleeding from your eyelids, lips or nose. Contact an emergency medical provider promptly if you develop these severe symptoms of saffron poisoning.

Additional Complications

Although saffron is safe when used in small amounts as a spice in food, women who are pregnant should avoid using therapeutic doses of saffron. Consuming more than 5 g of this medicinal herb may stimulate uterine contractions, which may cause a miscarriage or preterm labor. If you accidentally take a large dose of saffron during pregnancy, contact your doctor immediately.

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