The health benefits and healing power of saffron
The wonders of saffron as a natural healer dates back in the olden times, as evidences uncovered from age-old frescoes and documents reflect the ancient people's use of saffron threads to alleviate a number of illnesses. Each region that was familiar with the cultivation of Crocus sativus had its own method of curing diseases and promoting health using a saffron extract which was made from the thin, red threads derived from the saffron flower.
The effects of saffron have been cited in very old Chinese herbal medicine texts. In Mesopotamia, a ritual was held where chanting and some sort of dancing was involved to evoke the healing benefits of saffron. Battle-weary Persian and Greek warriors were said to soak themselves in saffron baths for comfort and cure, a ritual popularized by Alexander the Great. Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a Roman medical encyclopaedist, mentioned saffron as an antidote to poison in his volumes of De Medicina. The ancient Indian ayurvedic medicine also required saffron as a very important ingredient to many medicinal concoctions.
Over time saffron has become a universally known medicinal herb that cures just about any disorder or discomfort, with its effectiveness backed by new clinical studies or sheer millennial experience. Let's see how saffron can have beneficial effects on your health and possibly have a medicinal application for you.
The medicinal and health benefits of saffron
Saffron contains many different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and is a source of powerful antioxidants, molecules that protect body cells from free radicals and oxidative stress. The antioxidants present in saffron are: crocin, crocetin, safranal and kaempferol with crocin being the most important basic element for saffron's antioxidant activity.
To gain maximum benefit from the health properties of saffron, regular use of it in supplement form, or in meals as a spice would be sufficient. For example, you can easily promote and maintain your overall health by regularly drinking a cup of saffron tea, making a delicious Spanish paella or Iranian kebab with saffron rice.
For long-term use in a treatment against depression, for example, or in a weight loss diet, the recommended intake is 15 mg of pure saffron twice daily, with a total intake of 30 mg per day. This amount can be taken in the form of a dietary supplement containing saffron or one of the many saffron extracts commercially available.
It is claimed that one should be very careful about the amount of saffron taken at a time, as too much saffron is said to have toxic effects. However, recent studies of traditional medicine have shown that saffron is not toxic and can simply be used unlimitedly.
What is saffron good for health wise?
The constituents of saffron nourish all tissue layers, contributing to beautiful and healthy skin, good libido and mental resilience. In addition, saffron has a detoxifying and rejuvenating effect.
The fragrance of saffron is claimed to help boost a cheerful mood and in this way cure melancholy. It also helps keep the body and senses alert.
Added to certain oils and immersed for several days, saffron becomes strong enough to be used as a relaxant or sedative. Taken orally in small amounts, it is known to help maintain and strengthen the health of the immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous and reproductive systems.
Saffron has been known for centuries to regulate a woman's menstrual cycle. Drinking milk or tea with a small amount of saffron helps relieve menstrual pain and headaches and helps prevent mood swings before menstruation.
Saffron supplement can also help treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. If the physical and psychological symptoms before you get your period (menstruation) are so bad that you are unable to perform your normal daily activities, you may have PMS. Studies show that saffron can help treat PMS symptoms.
For pregnant women, a small amount assists in rhythmic contraction of the uterus, thereby alleviating pain and difficulty in delivery of the baby; but a large amount can be fatal because it could cause seizure and cramps in the uterus and cause unwanted abortion. Saffron mixed with olive oil is said to cure uterus ulcers.
In addition to these positive effects on the reproductive system, saffron is also said to have aphrodisiac properties - especially in people taking antidepressants. Aphrodisiacs are foods or supplements that boost your libido. In men with erectile dysfunction, erectile function, libido and overall satisfaction improved significantly by taking a dietary supplement containing 30 mg of saffron daily for 4 weeks. It has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on virility issues. In women with low sexual desire due to antidepressant use, sexual desire increased when taking 30 mg of saffron per day for 4 weeks.
There is some serious research in Iran and Japan on the ability of saffron to treat depression. Clinical studies have shown that saffron has antidepressant properties with minimal side effects. The main active ingredients of saffron, safranal and crocin, are responsible for the antidepressant properties. The use of saffron is said to have similar effects to fluoxetine or Prozac with the difference being that this natural antidepressant has no side effects. Recent studies also show that 30 mg of saffron administered twice daily is as good as donepezil or Aricept in treating mild Alzheimer's disease. Saffron contains crocin that is proven to be a neuronal antioxidant potent enough to combat neurodegenerative disorders. As an anti-anxiety medication, studies also showed that crocin and safranal are effective because of their sleep-inducing and anxiolytic property. There is also evidence that crocin works positively with the serotonin-neurotransmitter system, thereby promising to be an effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder as well. Saffron also helps maintain a person's cerebral power in terms of absorption and retention of information.
Saffron has cardiotonic property which makes heart medicines easy to flow into the body and target the heart. The antioxidants in saffron averts circulatory problems by keeping cholesterol and triglyceride levels low. The crocetin in saffron also helps keep arteries free of blockages by pumping oxygen into the bloodstream, improving circulation and keeping the heart healthy and in top condition.
As its anti-inflammatory property, saffron helps ease asthmatic attacks by helping clear swollen airways and restoring normal breathing. The same works with coughs, colds, bronchitis and flu; a glass of warm milk mixed with a bit of saffron essence helps one to breathe and feel better as saffron helps loosen the bothersome phlegm.
The crocus plant is a rich source of vitamins B (especially B1, B2 and B6) and C which are essential in maintaining a healthy immune system. It also contains essential oils and phytochemicals that strengthen the immune system and provide the body with anticarcinogenic elements. Saffron-derived crocetin works as anti-cancer/anti-tumor agent that inhibits growth of cancer cells and boosts the anti-oxidative system.
Carotenoids in saffron could help slow macular degeneration caused by aging by strengthening cell membranes. Saffron keeps the eyes healthy and protects them from sun damage caused by radiation, retinal stress, day blindness, retinitis pigmentosa, conjunctivitis, teardrop and keratitis.
Crocus sativus has many other medicinal uses. Derivatives are said to be helpful in preventing or curing gastrointestinal problems such as flatulence and clogged liver and spleen. Saffron as topical application relieves headache, toothache, mouth sores, anal pain, muscle cramps, stomach pains, insect bites, and treats bruises and open wounds. Saffron paste is used to induce hair growth and treat alopecia or baldness.
Saffron can also be used either as appetite stimulant or suppressant. For weight loss, it helps that saffron has diuretic and perspiration-inducing properties. A clinical study about the effect of saffron on weight loss proved to be full of potential. Subjects were made to take capsules laden with saffron extract at pre-programmed schedules within two months and results showed positive results.
Finally, saffron also has a very interesting history in terms of eroticism. Cleopatra is said to have immersed herself in saffron baths as a prelude to a romantic interlude. Saffron oil spreads a certain exotic aroma that proves to be very seductive. Any beverage with the addition of a certain amount of saffron becomes a kind of aphrodisiac.
With this multitude of health applications of saffron, it is no surprise that the production of this remarkable bulbous crop holds an important position in Spain, Italy, France, Iran and India.