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Crocus sativus - L.                
Common Name Saffron
Family Iridaceae
USDA hardiness 5-9
Known Hazards The plant is poisonous[21]. The plant is perfectly safe in normal usage but 5 - 10 grams of saffron has been known to cause death[65].
Habitats Not known in a truly wild location[90].
Range S. Europe - Greece to W. Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of flower
Crocus sativus is a CORM growing to 0.1 m (0ft 4in) by 0.1 m (0ft 4in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 5-Oct It is in flower in October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, butterflies.Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

Crocus sativus Saffron

Crocus sativus Saffron
 Lawn; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Root.
Edible Uses: Colouring;  Condiment;  Tea.

The flower styles are commonly used as a flavouring and yellow colouring for various foods such as bread, soups, sauces, rice and puddings[2, 4, 7, 14, 21, 27, 34, 183]. They are an essential ingredient of many traditional dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse, risotto milanese and various other Italian dishes[244]. The styles are extremely rich in riboflavin[137]. Water soluble[171]. Yields per plant are extremely low, about 4000 stigmas yield 25g of saffron[89]. Saffron is the world's most expensive spice, it takes 150,000 flowers and 400 hours work to produce 1 kilo of dried saffron[238]. About 25 kilos of styles can be harvested from a hectare of the plant[4]. Fortunately, only very small quantities of the herb are required to impart their colour and flavour to dishes[244]. Because of the cost, saffron is frequently adulterated with cheaper substitutes such as marigold flowers and safflower[244]. The flower styles are used as a tea substitute[183]. Root - cooked[183]. The corms are toxic to young animals[218] so this report of edibility should be treated with some caution[K].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Abortifacient;  Anodyne;  Antispasmodic;  Aphrodisiac;  Appetizer;  Carminative;  Diaphoretic;  Emmenagogue;  Expectorant;  Narcotic;  Sedative;  

Saffron is a famous medicinal herb with a long history of effective use, though it is little used at present because cheaper and more effective herbs are available[4, 7, 254]. The flower styles and stigmas are the parts used, but since these are very small and fiddly to harvest they are very expensive and consequently often adulterated by lesser products[7]. The styles and stigmas are anodyne, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, appetizer, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, sedative and stimulant[4, 7, 21, 174, 176, 218]. They are used as a diaphoretic for children, to treat chronic haemorrhages in the uterus of adults, to induce menstruation, treat period pains and calm indigestion and colic[4, 254]. A dental analgesic is obtained from the stigmas[7]. The styles are harvested in the autumn when the plant is in flower and are dried for later use[4], they do not store well and should be used within 12 months[238]. This remedy should be used with caution[21], large doses can be narcotic[240] and quantities of 10g or more can cause an abortion[218].
Other Uses

The yellow dye obtained from the stigmas has been used for many centuries to colour cloth[4, 7, 14, 21]. It is the favoured colouring for the cloth of Indian swamis who have renounced the material world. A blue or green dye is obtained from the petals[168].
Cultivation details                                         
Prefers a well-drained sandy or loamy soil that is free from clay[137]. Prefers a sunny position[238]. Grows well on calcareous soils[27] and on hot sheltered stony banks[42]. Plants are very frost hardy[137]. They also thrive in areas with poor summers, though they usually fail to flower in such conditions[238]. Plants produce less saffron when grown on rich soils[137]. They do not flower very freely in Britain[90]. Saffron has been cultivated for over 4,000 years for the edible dye obtained from the flower stigmas[1]. It was at one time commercially grown in Britain and the town Saffron Walden obtained its name because of this. There is at least one named form. 'Cashmirianus' comes from Kashmir and has large high quality corms. It yields about 27 kilos of rich orange stigmas per hectare[183]. When inhaled near to, the flowers have a delicate perfume[245]. Unlike most members of this genus, the flowers do not close of a night time or in dull weather[245]. The flowers are only produced after hot, dry summers[245]. Plants tend to move considerably from their original planting place because of their means of vegetative reproduction, it is therefore wise not to grow different species in close proximity[1]. Any planting out is best done in late spring or early summer[245]. Plants take 4 - 5 years to come into flowering from seed.
Seed - according to some reports this species is a sterile triploid and so does not produce fertile seed[90, 238]. However, if seed is obtained then it is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[1]. Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame[1]. Germination can take 1 - 6 months at 18°c[164]. Unless the seed has been sown too thickly, do not transplant the seedlings in their first year of growth, but give them regular liquid feeds to make sure they do not become deficient. Divide the small bulbs once the plants have died down, planting 2 - 3 bulbs per 8cm pot. Grow them on for another 2 years in a greenhouse or frame and plant them out into their permanent positions when dormant in late summer[K]. It takes 3 years for plants to flower from seed[244]. Division of the clumps in late summer after the plant has died down[1, 4, 14]. The bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[27]Vilmorin. A. The Vegetable Garden.
A reprint of a nineteenth century classic, giving details of vegetable varieties. Not really that informative though.
[34]Harrison. S. Wallis. M. Masefield. G. The Oxford Book of Food Plants.
Good drawings of some of the more common food plants from around the world. Not much information though.
[42]Grey. C. H. Hardy Bulbs.
Rather dated now, but an immense work on bulbs for temperate zones and how to grow them. Three large volumes.
[89]Polunin. O. and Huxley. A. Flowers of the Mediterranean.
A very readable pocket flora that is well illustrated. Gives some information on plant uses.
[90]Phillips. R. and Rix. M. Bulbs
Superbly illustrated, it gives brief details on cultivation and native habitat.
[137]? The Plantsman. Vol. 9. 1986 - 1987.
Excerpts from the periodical giving cultivation details and other notes on some of the useful plants including Carya spp and Crocus sativus.
[164]Bird. R. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 4.
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. A good article on Yuccas, one on Sagebrush (Artemesia spp) and another on Chaerophyllum bulbosum.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[171]Hill. A. F. Economic Botany.
Not very comprehensive, but it is quite readable and goes into some a bit of detail about the plants it does cover.
[174]Kariyone. T. Atlas of Medicinal Plants.
A good Japanese herbal.
[176]Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas.
An excellent Chinese herbal giving information on over 500 species. Rather technical and probably best suited to the more accomplished user of herbs.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[244]Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs
Deals with all types of herbs including medicinal, culinary, scented and dye plants. Excellent photographs with quite good information on each plant.
[245]Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World.
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
ryan meissel Thu Nov 8 2007
what are the different types, the future uses, growing conditions. of saffron
Elizabeth H.
brian hayes Sun Dec 31 2006
I would like to grow Saffron - on a verly small scale. Where can I obtain seed or a corn?
Elizabeth H.
Ken Fern, Plants for a Future Tue Jan 2 2007
This plant is quite widely available in Britain, with about 20 Nurseries offering it. For details of these visit The Plant Finder at http://www.rhs.org.uk/RHSPlantFinder/plantfinder.asp.
Elizabeth H.
J Crocker Fri Jan 5 2007
Would this plant grow in the tropics at altitude? In particular the Venezuelan Andes which have two seasons, hot(ish) and dry and hot(ish) and wet? Many European vegetables and flowers, roses and alstroemeria in particular are very successfully grown there; and labour is cheap.
Elizabeth H.
Ken Fern, Plants for a Future Sun Jan 21 2007
To be honest, I have no idea if this plant would succeed in a mountainous area in the Tropics. You mention that European roses grow there very successfully - are any of the vegetables you mentioned perennials, or are they all annuals? My feeling is that, if various other European perennial plants can succeed there, then there is no reason why Crocus sativus shouldn't also. If I was to try it, I would plant it a month or so before the wet season began, hoping it would grow during the wet season (as it does in southern Europe) and then go dormant in the dry season. It should flower towards the end of the dry season.
Elizabeth H.
Thu Mar 8 2007
what is it name in arabic?
Elizabeth H.
Ken Fern, Plants for a Future Sat Apr 14 2007
The Arabic name for this plant is Kurkum, the Iranian name is Zaffran.
Elizabeth H.
Jamie Frankland Thu Mar 22 2007
can you grow the crocus sativus from bulbs rather than seeds. If so how long will they take to flower
Elizabeth H.
Ken Fern, Plants for a Future Tue Apr 24 2007
Some reports say that true Crocus sativus does not produce fertile seed because it is a sterile triploid. However, if you do get hold of seed that you feel is genuine Crocus sativus then it usually takes a minimum of 3 years to produce a flowering plant.
Elizabeth H.
Ken Fern, Plants for a Future Sun Jan 21 2007
To be honest, I have no idea if this plant would succeed in such a situation. You mention that European roses grow there very successfully - are any of the vegetables you mentioned perennials, or are they all annuals? My feeling is that, if various other European perennial plants can succeed there, then there is no reason why Crocus sativus shouldn't also. If I was to try it, I would plant it a month or so before the wet season began, hoping it would grow during the wet season (as it does in southern Europe) and then go dormant in the dry season. It should flower towards the end of the dry season.
Elizabeth H.
kaday san Sun Jun 24 2007
How many flower grows out of one bulb?? How much stigmas are produced from one flower??
Elizabeth H.
Hkumar Tue Dec 25 2007
How does saffron do in high altitude monsoon climates (plateaus of southern I ndia)?
Elizabeth H.
ANDREW LEVER Fri Jan 30 2009
recent studies have suggested that saffron is affective at relieving stress induced depression or mild to modern depression. is it safe to take saffron tables on a day to day basis or eat saffron everyday in your food?
Elizabeth H.
john smith Thu Mar 12 2009
the saffron is used in lots of different recipies as well
Elizabeth H.
M. J. HUMBAL Thu Dec 3 2009
Please send me a photograph of Crocus Sativus Seeds.(Saffron Seeds)
Mary W.
Mar 15 2013 12:00AM
I grow saffron crocus in the UK very successfully in troughs which stand on bricks for effective drainage.
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