Considered to be one of the most expensive spices in the world, Saffron not only adds a beautiful yellow color and flavor to food but is also filled with numerous health benefits. We use the dried stigmas of the saffron plant as the spice. Saffron is harvested by hand and it is because of the large amount of labor involved in this process that this spice has become so expensive. This wonderful spice is native to Southern Europe and is nowadays cultivated in many other countries such as Italy, Greece, France, Iran, Spain, Turkey, and India. The distinct flavor of saffron comes from certain chemical compounds present in it such as safranal and picrocrocin while the golden-yellow color comes from the natural carotenoid compound, crocin. These unique features in combination with its health benefits and medicinal properties make saffron, a highly valued food item all over the world.
Nutritional value of saffron
Saffron is a rich source of several plant derived chemical compounds that are powerful anti-oxidants and possess health benefitting and disease preventing properties. It contains essential volatile oils such as safranal, borneol, cineole, phenethenol, pinene, limonene, geraniol and many more. In addition to the carotenoid compound, α-crocin, which gives saffron its characteristic golden-yellow hue, it also contains several other carotenoid compunds, including lycopene, alpha carotene, beta carotene and zea-xanthin. These compounds are potent antioxidants that protect your body from the damages caused by free radicals. This exotic spice is a rich source of vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid. It also contains good amounts of minerals like copper, calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, and zinc.
Health benefits of saffron
Although saffron is mainly used as a spice to impart flavor and color to dishes, it contains many chemical compounds and nutrients that make it useful in improving your health and in preventing many diseases. Some of the benefits of saffron are mentioned below:
Skin benefits of saffron
Saffron can work wonders on your skin. In addition to lightening your skin, saffron has several other beauty benefits. A face pack made from sandalwood paste, saffron and milk, can make you skin smooth and radiant. To obtain fairer skin, soak a few strand of saffron in some milk for about 2 hours and then massage your skin with this milk. Wash it off after a few minutes. This will also help in getting rid of blemishes and blackheads. Saffron also helps in exfoliating your skin, thereby making it smooth and flawless. Scrubbing your face with saffron soaked in rose water helps in improving your skin tone.
Drinking a glass of milk to which saffron is added is also believed to improve your complexion. In some places pregnant ladies are given saffron and milk so that the baby will get fair complexion. However, there is no scientific evidence that proves this theory. Saffron has anti-microbial properties, which makes it excellent for preventing acne and other infections. It also helps in eliminating dark circles under your eyes. A mixture of lemon juice and saffron powder is beneficial for the treatment of dry skin.
Saffron and hair benefits
Saffron is found to be highly beneficial for the hair. It helps in strengthening your hair and in preventing hair loss. A mixture of saffron and licorice in milk, when applied to bald spots is helpful in promoting hair growth.
Saffron is an excellent source of antioxidants
Saffron contains high amounts of antioxidants that help in fighting off the harmful free radicals. It is these free radicals that cause oxidative stress to the cells, which eventually leads to their destruction. Cell damage or mutations are responsible for many life threatening diseases like cancer. Therefore by preventing oxidative stress, saffron helps in protecting you against premature aging, cancer and age related macular degeneration.
Saffron for weight loss
Saffron extract is considered to be a great weight loss aid. It is an appetite suppressant and helps to prevent overeating. According to studies, the intake of saffron helps in increasing the serotonin levels. This hormone helps in making you feel fuller, thereby eliminating the chances of frequent snacking and overeating.
Saffron promotes mental health
Saffron is believed to be a godsend for your brain as well as the whole nervous system. As mentioned above, Saffron increases the serotonin levels in your body, helping you to combat stress. This hormone also helps in normalizing emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression and compulsive behavior. Saffron contains several active compounds that may help in promoting learning and memory retention of a person. According to studies, saffron can be used in treating people suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. In another study, a comparison was done between the activities of saffron with donepezil, a drug which is used for treating dementia. The study revealed comparable effectiveness, but the patients who consumed saffron experienced less vomiting.
Saffron promotes digestive health
Saffron has been used since ancient times as a remedy for various digestive ailments and gastro intestinal disorders. It is found to increase blood circulation which promotes better digestion as well as the good health of the digestive system. Saffron coats the membranes of the stomach and colon which helps in eliminating of the symptoms of colic and acidity.
Saffron for respiratory ailments
Saffron functions as an expectorant and helps in loosening phlegm. It is found to be useful in the treatment of respiratory problems like asthma and cough.
Saffron can improve your sex life
Studies reveal that saffron may help in improving sexual function in both men and women. Saffron is a natural aphrodisiac that enhances sex drive and performance. This spice contains antioxidants like crocetin, crocin, and safranal, which are believed to be responsible for causing an increase in the sexual desire and arousal. According to studies, these compounds increased blood flow to the sexual organs, resulting in better sexual performance.
Saffron cures insomnia
Saffron is believed to have sedative properties, which is beneficial for people suffering from insomnia. Drinking a glass of warm milk containing a few strands of saffron before going to bed will help you get a good sleep.
Saffron has diuretic properties
Saffron is a natural diuretic that helps in preventing water retention by increasing the frequency of urination. This helps in treating urinary disorders and in preventing the formation of kidney stones. According to studies, the diuretic properties of saffron can be used as a safe treatment of related dysfunctions.
Saffron provides relief from arthritis
Saffron is found to have anti-inflammatory properties that are effective in curing the symptoms associated with arthritis and joint pain. It is also considered to be useful in treating muscle inflammation and fatigue.
Saffron helps in regulating blood pressure
According to a study published in the June 2008 issue of the journal “Phytomedicine”, the consumption of 400 milligrams of saffron on a daily basis for a week may help in reducing systolic blood pressure. Another study conducted on laboratory animals reveals that the water-based extracts of this spice may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. The blood pressure lowering effects of saffron can be attributed to the presence of crocin and safranal in it. Another study published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” (February 2003 issue) suggests that the leaf extracts of saffron are effective in relaxing the electrical impulse, thereby lowering blood pressure in laboratory animals.
Saffron and diabetes
According to studies saffron has the capacity to lower blood sugar levels. It helps in improving the uptake of glucose and in promoting utilization of glucose by the muscles. The blood sugar lowering effect of this spice was reported in the 2011 issue of the Journal on Medicinal Plants. According to this study, the intake of saffron showed considerable reduction in blood glucose levels in diabetic rats. It was found that when saffron was given at a dose of 125 milligrams per kg body weight, it helped in the lowering of both HbA1C and blood glucose. Saffron extract has been found to be highly effective in easing peripheral neuropathy, which is a common neural condition, associated with diabetic patients.
Saffron promotes cardiovascular health
In addition to lowering high blood pressure, saffron also helps in lowering the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Studies confirm that saffron helps to lower cholesterol and to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Animal studies reveal that saffron can be beneficial in lowering cholesterol by as much as 50%. Saffron is found to have anti-inflammatory properties that provide benefits to the health of the cardiovascular system. Moreover this spice has strong antioxidant properties, which helps in maintaining healthy blood vessels and arteries.
Saffron provides relief from premenstrual symptoms
Premenstrual symptoms or PMS is a common problem experienced my majority of the women. Saffron has been long promoted as a natural remedy for alleviating the symptoms associated with PMS. According to a study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women who used saffron extract experienced a significant decrease in the PMS symptoms than women who took a placebo.
Also known as the golden spice, saffron is undisputedly the king of all spices. It has a unique flavor and color that makes it a common ingredient in many cuisines of the world. Moreover, this spice has become popular worldwide because of its medicinal properties and health benefits. Since saffron is highly expensive and in huge demand all over the world, there are several adulterated versions of this spice available in the market nowadays. So make sure to buy saffron from trustworthy sources only.Image Credits: Flickr - Extrajection, Wikimedia - Liné1, Wikimedia - Thor