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What components make saffron so special?

Because of its popularity as an alternative medicinal herb that could cure many diseases, modern medicine is investigating the mysterious properties of saffron to study whether several of its components might have potential for use in medicine. As a result of this research, more than a hundred chemical components have already been isolated and available for medical and even commercial applications.

The three main components of saffron are:

  • Crocin, which explains the yellow pigmentation from the stigmas;
  • picrocrocin, which gives the rusty, bittersweet taste;
  • Safranal, which lends the honey-hay-like scent to the herb.

The components in saffron are classified according to their volatility.
The main non-volatile components include Crocin, α-Crocin, Picrocin, Zeaxanthin, Alpha and Beta Carotene, Crocetin and carotenoids containing Lycopene.
The main volatile components include terpene, terpene alcohol and terpene esters. Safranal is also an important volatile composite formed from picrocrocin as a result of the interaction of heat and enzymes during the drying process.

Crocin and Picrocin are very sensitive to light and air, which explains why saffron should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place when not in use.
Exposure to oxygen and sunlight in the atmosphere will cause oxidation which will greatly reduce the properties of the Crocin and Picrocin, deteriorating the quality of saffron.

Saffron contains dozens of antioxidants that are also being studied for use in medicines that fight cancer, depression and other neurodegenerative disorders.
The antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of saffron are mainly attributed to the content of flavonoids, tannins and anthocyanins present in saffron and extracts from the petals of the Crocus sativus.

Studies have shown that several flavonoids such as rutin, quercetin, luteolin, hesperidin and biflavonoids produced significant antinociceptive and/or anti-inflammatory activities. The glycosides in Crocin have also been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in some models of inflammation.