Relationship between Saffron and medicine
The use of saffron goes back to ancient Mediterranean civilizations (Greece, Egypt and Rome), as well as many areas of the Middle like Iran, and Far East. From the beginning of genesis of this spice, people discovered its healing properties. Saffron Express team is proud to invite you to read a brief history of medicinal use of crocus sativus in ancient empires.
Saffron’s main and common use is to give color, flavor and aroma to food, and to a lesser extent it is reported to be used as a dye and ingredient of perfumes. The use of crocus sativus as a food additive is so widespread in the world that almost every national cuisine comprises a dish strongly characterized by saffron, namely, Spanish paella, Italian risotto, French bouillabaisse, Iranian polo, Azerbaijani paklova, etc. In central Sicily, for example, saffron is used to produce ‘Piacentinu Ennese’, an old and traditional cheese, whose taste, color and flavor is strongly influenced by this spice.
As a medicinal plant saffron is still used in traditional medicine in several countries (Russia, India and Iran), and from a toxicological point of view it can be considered safe since its LD50 = 20 g/kg (Bisset, 1994). It has traditionally been considered as an anodyne, antidepressant, respiratory decongestant, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant and sedative. It was used in folk medicine as a remedy against scarlet fever, smallpox, colds, asthma, eye and heart disease, and cancer. Saffron can also be used topically to help clear up sores and to reduce the discomfort of teething infants.
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Among the secondary metabolites present in saffron the ester derivatives of crocetin, together with safranal, are nowadays the most studied to evaluate their biological activity. Recent data show that crocus sativus possesses tyrosinase inhibitory, anticonvulsant, antinflammatory and mutagenic activities, and cytotoxic and antigenotoxic effects, as well as anti-amyloidogenic activity in Alzheimer’s disease. Cancer chemo preventive and tumoricidal properties of saffron extracts are worth special mention, as scientific research in the last 5 years (2001–2006) has focused on this specific topic, with numerous encouraging results supported by in vitro and in vivo assays.
From an agronomic point of view, saffron is a very unusual plant for its agrological and Eco physiological characteristics. Adulteration of crocus sativus dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe, and given its high value, the penalty for those adulterating this spice could be death (Safranshou Code). One of the first systematic collections of these fraudulent practices, most of them still in use, has been documented by Maish (1885). Adulteration is normally carried out with vegetable or synthetic substances, as well as with inorganic and organic matter. The most common adulteration is with different parts of the flower itself: styles, stamen, strips of the corolla; other vegetable adulterants often commonly used are: safflower, calendula, poppy, arnica, onion skins, turmeric, annatto, capsicum and stigmas of maize. Amongst the synthetic substance tartrazine, ponceau 2R, methyl orange, eosin and erythrosine are the synthetic dyes most frequently reported. Saffron is also sometimes adulterated by the addition of oil, honey, glycerin, solutions of potassium or ammonium nitrate, and dry meat fibers.
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The spread of saffron cultivation should also undergo mechanization. Achieving a total mechanization in saffron is almost impossible, but suitable tools and existing machinery already available for other crops can certainly reduce manual labor in saffron and accelerate some operations, thereby reducing production costs. Improvement in research on mechanization of saffron crop techniques can lead to interesting results, but the more delicate operations are very far from being mechanized and should be done by hand. Hard labor requirements are partially recovered by the high price of the spice, with the drawback of a very small market.
High quality saffron production from selected areas with appropriate and safe management techniques cannot compete in the world market with the saffron from low-cost manual labor-intensive countries, but must be addressed towards a potential niche market of high-level quality. To reach it, more attention should be focused on using modern techniques and the evaluation and promotion of crocus sativus quality. The process must be accompanied by traceability, quality marking in order to attract more consumer interest, the adoption of organic agriculture management techniques (no pesticide and chemical fertilization) and the reduction in manual labor. In crocus sativus, the commercial products (stigmas) are not storage structures as in most cultivated plants, so an increase in nutrients in the soil is not directly linked to an increase in stigma weight. Certainly, a fertile soil is the basis for good saffron production, but organic manure represents the best support for crocus sativus, especially under non-irrigated conditions, supplying nutrients, but above all, improving soil moisture and soil structure. In very nutrient-poor soil, limited chemical fertilizing can be adopted.