Saffron (Crocus sativus) is derived from the flower of the saffron crocus. The history of saffron cultivation reaches back more than 3,000 years.
Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Documentation of saffron’s use over the span of 4,000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered.
Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran. The Sumerians later used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions.
Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture’s 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron in Derbena, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy.
Non-Persians also feared the Persians’ usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander’s troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.
Saffron has been used since ancient times for improving mood and calming anxiety. In Persian traditional medicine, saffron is used to treat depression.
In five preliminary double-blind studies, saffron was more effective than placebo and equally effective as antidepressants for treating major depressive disorder.
In two studies, saffron was compared favorably to prescription antidepressants imipramine (Tofranil) and fluoxetine (Prozac). As a therapeutic plant, saffron has been shown to have considerable antidepressant effects providing it is properly prepared and administered.
Two studies, one published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and the other published in the journal Psychopharmacology, show that saffron can help sufferers of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease to maintain better overall mental function. In both studies, patients were given 30 mg daily of saffron.
In one study, the patients were monitored for 16 weeks, and in the other study they were monitored for 22 weeks. Using standard tests for cognitive function, researchers were able to show that the use of saffron provides benefits to Alzheimer’s patients, and that those who took the saffron fared better mentally than those who did not.