Saffron is the most expensive and precious spice in the world. It is the stigmas of the flower of the Saffron Crocus or Crocus Sativus. Each one foot-high plant bears up to 4 flowers each of which have 3 crimson stigmas. These are harvested by hand and dried to make saffron. Cultivating, harvesting, and processing of saffron is very labor intensive. On average, it takes 60 hours of labor to pick 150,000 flowers to make just one kilogram of saffron.
History of Saffron in Afghanistan
Saffron has been grown in Afghanistan for at least 2,000 years. Herat province in the northwest part of the country produces the world’s best saffron. Production of saffron in Afghanistan more than doubled from just over 1,000 hectares of land in 2015 to more than 2,800 hectares in 2016. Afghan farmers are not just growing saffron but they are growing the best in the world for the past three years according to the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels. The ITQI samples over 300 varieties of saffron every year.
Saffron History in the World
Saffron has been known to humans since before recorded history. Saffron-based pigments have been found in Paleolithic depictions in Northwest Iran. Ancient Persians used saffron in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and religious rites. Its documentation dates to the Bronze Age and it was traded by the earliest Greek civilizations. Alexander the Great used it to heal his battle wounds. Cleopatra used saffron in her baths as an aphrodisiac. It appears in ancient Chinese medical texts, Minoan frescoes, and Assyrian botanical reference books.
From the Song of Solomon:
“Your lips drop sweetness like honeycomb, my bride, syrup and milk are under your tongue, and your dress had the scent of Lebanon. Your cheeks are an orchard of pomegranates, an orchard full of rare fruits, spikenard and saffron, sweet cane and cinnamon”
What is Saffron used for?
Most saffron today is used in the preparation of food, but it is also still used as a dye for textiles and in some pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. While our ancestors may have ascribed near-magical properties to this spice, chemical analysis reveals the presence of many beneficial vitamins and minerals. Recent studies have shown some efficacy in the treatment of depression with saffron supplements and saffron is purported to boost immune health, optimize blood sugar levels, strengthen bone, and relieve pain. More information about benefits of saffron can be found here.