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Saffron – A Spice With Many Health Benefits

Saffron is the exotic Asian spice used in Mexican, Spanish, Mediterranean and Indian cooking.

What many people don’t know, however, is that it is also a potent medicinal herb as well. In Chinese medicine it’s been used for centuries and recent studies have reinforced its health benefits.

And as you might expect with a powerful herbal medicine, there are also people who shouldn’t take saffron medicinally, and probably should avoid it even in cooking.

In Chinese medicine saffron goes by the name of hong hua. The literal translation is “red flower.” It comes from the inner parts of the saffron flower. It’s one of the most labor intensive herbs to harvest. You can see why in this picture:

Saffron

The medicinal part is the tiny red strands coming out of the center of the flower. (This beautiful picture taken by Gut Gimritz and used courtesy of Wikimedia commons under the GNU-FDL license).

Imagine harvesting those tiny red strands by the pound. No wonder it’s an expensive spice!

The medicinal uses for this herb are amazing. In Chinese medicine it comes under the category of herbs that activate the blood. In other words, it has powerful effects at breaking up blood clots and increasing circulation.

Here’s a quick list of saffron’s medicinal uses:

  • Fights anxiety & depression
  • Reduces serum cholesterol
  • Helps avoid and neutralize the effects of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Protects against alcohol-induced memory loss
  • Protects against free radical tissue damage because of its potent antioxidant properties
  • Fights cancer because of its antioxidant and blood moving properties
  • Helps correct male impotence
  • Speeds wound healing used topically, including burns
  • Increases circulation by dilating blood vessels, inhibiting platelet aggregation & prolonging clotting time
  • Relieves painful menstruation when there are dark blood clots
  • Stimulates uterine muscle contraction

You can see from this list why it’s such a useful herb.

Of course there are people who shouldn’t take saffron medicinally. In fact, I’d also recommend against eating food spiced with it for these people.

Who shouldn’t take saffron?

  • Pregnant women – the last thing you want to do when pregnant is stimulate uterine muscle contraction. It could potentially trigger a miscarriage.
  • Women experiencing heavy menstruation.
  • People taking anticoagulant medications (Coumadin, Heparin, etc.) should be cautious when using this herb since it has the potential for causing excessive bleeding in these cases.
  • Those about to undergo surgery should stop using saffron at least a week ahead of time.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce


References:

Hyperhealth Pro Database, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2008.

Bensky, Dan and Barolet, Randall, Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies, Eastland Press, Vista, California, 1990

Imenshahidi, M., et al. Hypotensive effect of aqueous saffron extract (Crocus sativus L.) and its constituents, safranal and crocin, in normotensive and hypertensive rats. Phytother Res. 24(7):990-994, 2010.

Gainer, J. L., et al. The use of crocetin in experimental atherosclerosis. Experientia. 31(5):548-549, 1975.

Saleem, S., et al. Effect of Saffron (Crocus sativus) on neurobehavioral and neurochemical changes in cerebral ischemia in rats. J Med Food. 9(2):246-253, 2006.

Thatte, U., et al. Modulation of programmed cell death by medicinal plants. Cell Mol Biol. 46:199-214, 2000.

Abe, K., et al. Effects of saffron extract and its constituent crocin on learning behaviour and long-term potentiation. Phytotherapy Research. 14(3):149-152, 2000.

Akhondzadeh, S., et al. A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 207(4):637-643, 2010.

Wang, Y., et al. Antidepressant properties of bioactive fractions from the extract of Crocus sativus L. J Nat Med. 64(1):24-30, 2010.

Shamsa, A., et al. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine. 16(8):690-693, 2009.

Khorasani, G., et al. The effect of saffron (Crocus sativus) extract for healing of second-degree burn wounds in rats. Keio J Med. 57(4):190-195, 2008.

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