Saffron, commonly known as Kesar, comes from the stigma and style of the flower Crocus Sativus also known as the Saffron Crocus. It is one of the most expensive spices globally and an essential part of culinary heritage. Saffron is used in many dishes to enhance the colour and the taste of the food and for its medicinal properties. It also has antioxidants that help protect body cells against oxidative stress and benefit during nervous system disorders.
Besides its aroma and flavour, saffron is highly-priced because it has various medicinal and health benefits and contains several vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, B, C and niacin. In addition, it has calcium, copper, magnesium and zinc. Saffron helps in boosting memory, acts as an antidepressant, causes relief in premenstrual syndrome (PMS) etc. People also use saffron because it offers some potential benefits for heart disease.
Nutritional Value of Saffron
Saffron contains several vitamins and minerals, which are very beneficial for health. It also contains protein in small quantities. According to the USDA, 100 grams of saffron contains:
- Total fat: 6g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Sodium: 148g
- Potassium: 1,742mg
- Total Carbohydrate: 65g
- Protein: 11g
- Saturated fat: 1.6g
- Dietary fibre: 3.9g
Benefits of Saffron for Health
Saffron has multiple health benefits. It contains vitamins, minerals and protein and is high in nutritional value. In addition, its nutritive properties are beneficial for treating various health conditions. Some of the health benefits of saffron are:
1. Saffron is High in Antioxidants
Saffron has potent antioxidants. The primary antioxidants present in saffron are picrocrocin, crocin, and safranal. These are beneficial for health because they help relieve oxidative stress in the body. A study also shows that antioxidant components crocin, crocetin and safranal in saffron can help prevent and treat cancer. In addition, they help in weight loss, reducing inflammation, maintaining a good appetite, and act as an antidepressant.
2. Reduces Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms (PMS)
A study suggests that saffron can help reduce Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms. PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome is an emotional, physical and behavioural symptom many women feel days before their menstrual cycle. It occurs a week or two before the periods.
Saffron is effective in women aged between 20 and 45 for reducing PMS symptoms. For example, taking 30mg of saffron shows significant relief in the premenstrual syndrome system. Not only this, but saffron’s aroma can also help reduce stress and anxiety during periods.
3. Helps Improve Mood and Fights Depression
Saffron is called ‘sunshine spice’ because of its beautiful bright yellow colour. A study proves that saffron is effective in improving mood. Therefore, saffron extracts help improve depressive symptoms in individuals and may increase resilience against stress-related issues. In addition, research shows that saffron supplements were more effective than placebo and similar antidepressants when treating depressive symptoms in individuals. However, you should consult your healthcare professional before taking saffron or any other antidepressant.
4. Can Help Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
Saffron effectively treats mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease because it has antioxidant and anti-amyloid genetic properties. Therefore, experts believe that saffron is effective and safe to consume in Alzheimer’s. A study also proves that saffron can help treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. In addition, Alzheimer’s patients who took 30mg of saffron showed more improvement than those who took a placebo.
5. Reduces the Risk of Heart Diseases
A study proves that saffron tea has antioxidants that can reduce the risk of heart or cardiovascular diseases. In addition, flavonoids and lycopene found in saffron give added protection against the risk of heart diseases. Furthermore, saffron is rich in minerals that help prevent different cardiac problems. These minerals and nutrients help strengthen the blood circulatory system, which reduces the risk of heart diseases.
6. Can Help Prevent Obesity
According to a study, saffron is beneficial for treating obesity. Again, the antioxidant properties of saffron enable it to act against obesity and other metabolic diseases. Saffron extracts work as an anti-obesity herbal medication because it helps decrease calorie intake by blocking dietary fat digestion and also help in suppressing the food intake by increasing the feeling of fullness/satiety.
7. Offers Skin Benefits
The antioxidant, anti-microbial properties of saffron make it an excellent remedy for various skin issues. For example, a study suggests that saffron helps depigment and repair the skin. Another study indicates that saffron is also effective in protecting the skin against harmful UV rays. In addition, saffron acts as a better antisolar agent than homosalate. Homosalate is an organic compound used in some sunscreens. However, it is valid only when you use it in equal concentrations. Therefore, many brands use saffron in their sunscreens, lotions, anti-spot, moisturisers, and anti-ageing products.
The Best Ways to Use Saffron
For Edible Purposes
When used as an add-on to the food or spice, saffron adds colour, aroma and taste to dishes. Hence, people use it in dishes like curry, pulao, biriyani and even milk and tea. Besides enhancing the flavour, saffron can improve the quality of the food with its medicinal properties.
Make an Elixir
It is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to use saffron. You need to follow simple steps to make an elixir.
- Add 2 tsp of saffron to a mortar and pestle
- Add a pinch of Himalayan salt
- Grind all the things by crushing them using a pestle.
- Once the powder is ready, add ¼ cup of lukewarm water and mix well
- Let it become densely aromatic and take up a bright red hue
- Transfer it to a jar or a bottle after it’s cool, or add this liquid directly to any dish.
A common way of adding saffron to dishes is by steeping it in water like tea. To make saffron tea, follow the given steps.
- Roughly crumble 4-5 saffron threads.
- Then, add warm water or slightly boiled milk to the saffron.
- After 10 minutes of steeping, the liquid will turn reddish-yellow and is ready to add to your tea or drink solo.
As an Add-on to Your Foods
Recipes like kheer, risotto, and biryani have enough liquid to bring out the aromatic flavours of saffron. Hence, they do not need additional preparation before adding saffron to them. Instead, a pinch of saffron tossed in the recipe brings out the best flavours. In addition, the key to bringing out the subtle flavours of saffron is adding it early on and allowing it to get cooked with the liquid.
To Reduce Hyperpigmentation and Acne
Saffron has high vitamin content, and an active compound called crocin which helps in reducing hyperpigmentation. In addition, saffron has vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B9, which help soothe inflammation, redness and acne. Here is an easy way to use it.
- Take 4-5 strands of saffron and mix them in clean water
- Now, add 1 tsp of turmeric and make a paste
- Apply it to your face for 10 minutes and wash-off
- You will see a reduction in pigmentation, acne and dark spots.
Saffron is suitable as a skin-lightening agent because it contains a high level of vitamin C. The abundance of vitamin C in saffron helps promote collagen in the skin and reduces dark spots. You can use it by making a paste with some water and turmeric powder.
Healthy Recipes Using Saffron
If appropriately used, saffron can bring a fantastic aroma to your food. In addition, it also adds medicinal value to your foods. Like any dried spice, saffron needs hydration to draw out its exquisite flavours and colour. Here are some healthy recipes using saffron:
1. Red Lentils Soup with Saffron
Preparation Time: 40 mins
- Crushed saffron threads: ¼ tsp
- Oil: 3tsp
- Carrots (diced): 2 medium
- Onion (chopped): 1 large
- Garlic (minced): 3 cloves
- Tomato paste: 1tsp
- Ground cumin: ½ tsp
- Ground turmeric: ¼ tsp
- Water: 1½ cup or more if needed
- Red Lentils: 2 cups
- Spinach chopped: 140g
- Ground pepper: 1tsp
- Plain yoghurt and coriander: for garnish
- Salt to taste
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add in garlic, tomato paste, cumin, saffron and turmeric and cook for 1 minute.
- Add onion and carrots. Cook for 7–10 minutes or until softened.
- Now add water, lentils, spinach, salt and pepper and let it simmer.
- Cover and cook on medium heat.
- Check if more water is required and stir continuously to prevent sticking.
- After 15-20 minutes, the soup will be ready.
- Garnish with yoghurt and coriander.
- Serve hot.
2. Saffron Rice
Preparation Time: 40 minutes
- Ghee/olive oil: 3 tsp
- Cumin: 1tsp
- Green Cardamom: 2-3
- Indian bay leaf: 1
- Cinnamon: 1.5 inch
- Cloves: 2-3
- Brown Rice: 1.5 cups
- Saffron: 2-3 pinch
- Turmeric: 1 pinch
- Coriander leaves for garnish: 2-3tsp
- Salt: to taste
- Rinse rice 2-3 times.
- Soak rice in water for 20-30 minutes. Then, drain the water and keep the rice aside.
- Crush saffron strands in mortar-pestle.
- Heat oil/ghee in a deep pot. Lower the heat and add cumin, cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, and bay leaf.
- Fry until the spices crackle.
- Add soaked rice and mix it in spices for 1-2 minutes.
- Now add crushed saffron strands and turmeric and mix it gently.
- Pour water and season with salt.
- Cover the pot and cook until rice absorbs water.
- Serve the saffron rice hot garnished with coriander.
3. Saffron Ginger Carrot Soup
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
- Ghee/olive oil: 3 tsp
- Carrots: 6 large
- Carrot Greens/Parsley: 1 tbsp, chopped
- Shallots: 2, chopped
- Garlic: 4 cloves, chopped
- Minced Ginger: 1 tbsp
- Vegetable Stock: 2 cups
- Water: 2 cups
- Bay Leaf: 1 nos
- Saffron Threads: 3 pinches
- Salt: 1 tsp
- Pepper: 1 tsp
- Add your soup pot on the stove and turn on the flame.
- Drizzle olive oil and allow to heat.
- Add the bay leaf, chopped shallots, ginger and garlic to the oil and fry until aromatic.
- Now, add the carrots, salt and pepper and cook until the carrots are soft.
- Pour the stock, water, carrot greens or parsley and saffron threads and bring the contents of the pan to boil. Then turn down the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaf from the pot, and then puree the remaining ingredients until smooth.
- Serve hot.
Potential Side Effects of Saffron
Saffron is safe to use and possibly has no significant side effects when used in small quantities or in moderation. However, excess consumption can cause some severe side effects on health. Below are some of the common side effects of saffron:
- Taking saffron supplements in excess can cause side effects like anxiety, drowsiness, bad headaches, etc. Studies show that humans can safely take up to 1.5 grams of saffron per day. If you do not use saffron supplements as prescribed, they can harm people with blood pressure or blood-thinning medicine.
- Oral consumption of a large amount of saffron can cause health issues in pregnant or breastfeeding women. Research suggests that high saffron consumption can lead to miscarriage in pregnant women. It may also make the uterus contract. Hence, you should always take it in moderation.
- Study shows that excess saffron usage can cause side effects and allergic reactions to the skin like dryness, itchy skin, rash, burning skin etc.
- As per research, taking a high dose of saffron, 5 grams or more, can be toxic and cause stomach problems or poisoning.
The Bottom Line
Saffron is a valuable spice or herb that people use in various ways. It is a nutrient-rich ingredient with many antioxidant properties, vitamins, minerals, and other medicinal properties. Hence, it is very beneficial for health. Furthermore, research studies claim that saffron can benefit from various diseases like Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Anxiety, depression, PMS, etc. However, before you take saffron for any of these diseases, it is crucial to consult your health care professional. Furthermore, like any other food/spice, saffron also has side effects. So it is best to use it in moderation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q. How can saffron help your body?
A. Saffron is a beneficial spice loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Saffron has many medicinal properties that act against health-related issues like reducing the Premenstrual Syndrome system (PMS), anxiety, heart disease, cancer, libido, weight loss etc. In addition, the antioxidants in saffron are very healthy for the body and the mind. So, when you consume saffron in moderation, it benefits your body.
Q. Does saffron make you high?
A. No, saffron does not make you high. If you use saffron for medicinal purposes or eat it as a spice in food in a moderate amount, it doesn’t have any side effect. However, consuming saffron in large amounts (5 grams or more) can cause drowsiness or nausea.
Q. Is saffron safe to take daily?
A. If consumed in moderation, it is safe to take saffron daily. A moderate consumption would not lead to any side effects. However, if you use it in excess, it can lead to side effects. For example, consuming more than 5 grams of saffron can be toxic and lead to allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, bad stomach, headache etc
Q. How fast does saffron work?
A. People use saffron for various purposes, and it works differently for different health problems. For example, saffron starts working within one week for depression and anxiety issues. And if it is taken daily with water, it works quickly in promoting good hair growth and glowing skin.
Q. What are the benefits of drinking milk with saffron?
A. There are many benefits of drinking milk with saffron. Some of them include:
- Relief from Menstrual Cramps
- Protection Against Cold
- Improved Heart Health
- Insomnia Treatment
- Combating Allergies
- Boosts Memory
Q. How much saffron should I take for depression?
A. Several studies demonstrate the role of saffron as an anti-depressant. However, you should not decide on the exact dose without consulting a healthcare professional. Although some studies suggest that 20mg to 40mg per day can be helpful, it should depend on the patient’s condition. Hence, it is best to start with 1.5g of saffron per day. Then, you can gradually increase the dose if you do not experience any adverse effects.
Q. What happens if we drink saffron milk daily?
A. Drinking saffron milk every day offers a lot of benefits. Saffron milk has high medical properties, which will help you get glowing skin, improved digestion, thick hair growth, sound sleep etc. Enhanced immunity is also one of the benefits of drinking saffron milk daily. In addition, milk contains calcium that is healthy for the bones.
Q. Does saffron whiten skin?
A. Yes, saffron helps in whitening skin tone to some extent. It is due to the active compounds in saffron like crocin that help reduce hyperpigmentation from the skin. Some studies also suggest that saffron can reduce melanin production in the skin. You can either apply saffron soaked in milk directly to your face or drink it daily for better results. However, consult a doctor before oral consumption if you have a medical condition or are on blood thinners.
Q. Does saffron help with anxiety?
A. Various studies prove that saffron is an effective treatment for anxiety. In addition, natural compounds in saffron like crocin, crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal are traditionally ailments to treat anxiety and depressive symptoms.