Saffron: History, Traditional Uses & Pharmalogical Findings

*This report is a part of findings from Dr. Hossein Hosseinzadeh, Department of Pharmacodynamics & Toxicology, Mashhad University of Medicine.

Saffron flowers

The History of Saffron

The saffron plant (Crocus Sativus Linneaus) in the family Iridacease, one of the many plants indigenous to Iran. The plant was for the first time discovered on the slopes of Zagros Mountains and the Alvand Mountains in the Median era (709 - 556 BC).

The world's first saffron field were set up and used in these same areas by the indigenous inhabitants in the Median Era. The name saffron was known as "Karkam" in ancient (Achaemenian) Persia, with its local name being Karkabica. 

Saffron's food qualities and cosmetic uses where discovered by the Iranians in the ancient times. According to Islamic sources knows as Belinas sources, Pinius Pliny, the Roman Naturalist (72-73 AD), refers to the preparation of special cosmetic cream and oil containing saffron, lion's fat and liquor in the Achaemenian Era ( 321-336 BC) and the Parthian Era (356 BC-226 AD). In addition to that, based on the writings by the companions of Alexander (321-336 BC), Greek writer Polyene in the 2nd century AD recorded in the treatise stratagems that the quantity of saffron used in the Archaemenian Court was 2 "mins" (1 min = 498 grams) or about 1 Kilogram per day.

Saffron then came to be widely used in Andalus (Islamic Spain) and following it, in Sicily. A group of the Parthians migrated to India in the 1st and 2nd centuries AH. It was the Parthians who cultivated saffron in areas in Kashmir in the Indian subcontinent.

Flower of Health
Crocus Sativus L. commonly known as saffron, is a perennial stemless herb of the Iridaceae family. Commercial saffron comprises the dried red stigma with a small portion of the yellowish style attached. Briefly, saffron is most commonly used in cooking and baking for its flavor and its dye properties. Independent of its use as a dye and scent, saffron is also interest because of its traditional uses and pharmacological activities.

Traditional uses

  1. Gastrointestinal tract: Antispasmodic, digestive and carminative.
  2. Genitary tract: Emmenagogue (promotes menstrual discharge), aphrodisiac (Exciting sexual desire), dysmenorrheal, premenstrual syndrome
  3. Respiratory tract: Anti-asthmatic, anti-cough, expectorant
  4. Central nervous system: Sedative and hypnotic, analgesic, exhilarant.

Pharmacological findings

  1. Anticancer (In vitro and In vivo)
  2. Central nervous system: memory and learning improvement, anticonvulsant and antidepressant
  3. Cardiovascular: Anti-hypertensive, hypolipidemic, anti-ischemia against cerebral, muscle and renal ischemia
  4. Miscellaneous: Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity, antitussive protection against genotoxic and aphrodisiac


No consensus exists. Saffron may be ingested by mixing the powder with food or brewing it as tea. 50 mg twice a day is recommended.

Adverse reactions

No adverse reactions have been reported with dosages under 1.5 grams. The following reactions have been documented with doses above 5grams: vertigo, bradycardia (slowed heart rate), epistaxis (nose bleed), vomiting, menorrhagia (less frequent menstrual cycle), facial flushing.

Use in pregnancy

Saffron overdose in pregnant women may cause a risk of spontaneous abortion with a use of over 10 grams.


"Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food".
The Father of medicine, Hippocrates