Crocus sativus L. belonging to the family Iridaceae (syn - kesar) comprises the dried red stigma and is widely cultivated in Greece.
Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds mainly terpenes, terpene alcohol, and their esters.
The bitter taste and an iodoform or hay-like fragrance are caused by chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. C. sativuspossesses a number of medicinally important activities such as antihypertensive, anticonvulsant, antitussive, antigenototoxic and cytotoxic effects, anxiolytic aphrodisiac, antioxidant, antidepressant, antinociceptive , anti-inflammatory, and relaxant activity. It also improves memory and learning skills, and increases blood flow in retina and choroid.
The present review explores the historical background, chemical constituents, pharmacological actions, uses, substitutes and adulterants, and toxicity. It also deals with its evaluation, formulations, and chemical tests in detail.
Commercial saffron comprises the dried red stigma with a small portion of the yellowish style attached.
A definite identification of saffron crocuses dates from about 1700-1600 BC, in the form of a fresco painting in the Palace of Minos at Knossos in Crete. The wild precursor of domesticated saffron crocus was Crocus cartwrightianus.
Experts believe saffron was first documented in a 7th centaury BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Since then, documentation of saffron's use over the span of 4000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered. It is in leaf from October to May, and in flower in October.
The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees and butterflies. The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, requires well-drained soil, and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. The flower has three stigmas, which are the distal ends of the plant's carpels. Together with the style, the stalk connecting the stigmas to the rest of the plant are often dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent. Saffron blooms only once a year and should be collected within a very short duration. It is picked during 3-4 weeks in October-November.
The method for the cultivation of saffron contributes greatly to its high price. According to some reports, this species is a sterile triploid and so does not produce fertile seeds. Germination can take 1-6 months at 18°C. It takes 3 years for plants to flower from seed.[3–6] Saffron is characterized by a bitter taste and an iodoform or hay-like fragrance, which are caused by chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. The value of saffron (stigmas of C. sativus L.) is determined by the existence of three main secondary metabolites: crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal.[8,9] Saffron is used for depression in Persian traditional medicine.[10–13] Pistils of saffron are generally used in traditional Indian medicine as analgesics and cardio-protective agents, as well as in the treatment of various kinds of mental illnesses. A crude extract of pistils of saffron improves recovery in ischemia/reperfusion injury and learning and memory in rats. In traditional medicines, saffron is recommended as an aphrodisiac agent.