Eleven Health Benefits of Saffron


Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world — with 1 pound (450 grams) costing between 500 and 5,000 U.S. dollars.

The reason for its hefty price is its labor-intensive harvesting method, making the production costly.

Saffron is harvested by hand from the Crocus sativus flower, commonly known as the “saffron crocus.” The term “saffron” applies to the flower's thread-like structures, or stigma.

It originated in Greece, where it was revered for its medicinal properties. People would eat saffron to enhance libido, boost mood, and improve memory (1Trusted Source).

Here are 11 impressive health benefits of saffron: 

 

1. A Powerful Antioxidant

Saffron contains an impressive variety of plant compounds that act as antioxidants — molecules that protect your cells against free radicals and oxidative stress.

Notable saffron antioxidants include crocin, crocetin, safranal, and kaempferol (2Trusted Source).

Crocin and crocetin are carotenoid pigments and responsible for saffron’s red color. Both compounds may have antidepressant properties, protect brain cells against progressive damage, improve inflammation, reduce appetite, and aid weight loss (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).

Safranal gives saffron its distinct taste and aroma. Research shows that it may help improve your mood, memory, and learning ability, as well as protect your brain cells against oxidative stress (4Trusted Source).

Lastly, kaempferol is found in saffron flower petals. This compound has been linked to health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, anticancer properties, and antidepressant activity (2Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).

 

2. May Improve Mood and Treat Depressive Symptoms

Saffron is nicknamed the “sunshine spice.”

That’s not just due to its distinct color, but also because it may help brighten your mood.

In a review of five studies, saffron supplements were significantly more effective than placebos at treating symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression (6Trusted Source).

Other studies found that taking 30 mg of saffron daily was just as effective as Fluoxetine, Imipramine, and Citalopram — conventional treatments for depression. Additionally, fewer people experienced side effects from saffron compared to other treatments (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).

What’s more, both the saffron petals and thread-like stigma appear to be effective against mild-to-moderate depression (1Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).

While these findings are promising, longer human studies with more participants are needed before saffron can be recommended as a treatment for depression.

4. May Reduce PMS Symptoms

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a term that describes physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms occurring before the start of a menstrual period.

Studies show that saffron may help treat PMS symptoms.

In women 20–45 years of age, taking 30 mg of saffron daily was more effective than a placebo at treating PMS symptoms, such as irritability, headaches, cravings, and pain (15Trusted Source).

Another study found that simply smelling saffron for 20 minutes helped reduce PMS symptoms like anxiety and lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol (16Trusted Source).

5. May Act as an Aphrodisiac

Aphrodisiacs are foods or supplements that help boost your libido.

Studies have shown that saffron may have aphrodisiac properties — especially in people taking antidepressants.

For instance, taking 30 mg of saffron daily over four weeks significantly improved erectile function over a placebo in men with antidepressant-related erectile dysfunction (17Trusted Source).

Additionally, an analysis of six studies showed that taking saffron significantly improved erectile function, libido, and overall satisfaction but not semen characteristics (18Trusted Source).

In women with low sexual desire due to taking antidepressants, 30 mg of saffron daily over four weeks reduced sex-related pain and increased sexual desire and lubrication, compared to a placebo (19Trusted Source).

6. May Reduce Appetite and Aid Weight Loss

Snacking is a common habit that may put you at risk of gaining unwanted weight.

According to research, saffron may help prevent snacking by curbing your appetite.

In one eight-week study, women taking saffron supplements felt significantly more full, snacked less frequently, and lost significantly more weight than women in the placebo group (20Trusted Source).

In another eight-week study, taking a saffron extract supplement helped significantly reduce appetite, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and total fat mass (3Trusted Source).

However, scientists are unsure how saffron curbs appetite and aids weight loss. One theory is that saffron elevates your mood, which in turn reduces your desire to snack (20Trusted Source).

7.May reduce heart disease risk factors:

Animal and test-tube studies indicate that saffron’s antioxidant properties may lower blood cholesterol and prevent blood vessels and arteries from clogging (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).

8.May lower blood sugar levels:

Saffron may lower blood sugar levels and raise insulin sensitivity — as seen in test-tube studies and mice with diabetes (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).


9.May improve eyesight in adults with age-related macular degeneration (AMD):

Saffron appears to improve eyesight in adults with AMD and protect against free radical damage, which is linked to AMD (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).


10.May improve memory in adults with Alzheimer’s disease:

Saffron’s antioxidant properties may improve cognition in adults with Alzheimer's disease (29Trusted Source).

11. Easy to Add to Your Diet

In small doses, saffron has a subtle taste and aroma and pairs well with savory dishes, such as paella, risottos, and other rice dishes.

The best way to draw out saffron’s unique flavor is to soak the threads in hot — but not boiling — water. Add the threads and the liquid to your recipe to achieve a deeper, richer flavor.

Saffron is readily available at most specialty markets and can be purchased as threads or in powdered form. However, it’s best to buy the threads, as they give you more versatility and are less likely to be adulterated.

Though saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, a small amount goes a long way, and you often won’t need more than a pinch in your recipes. In fact, using too much saffron can give your recipes an overpowering medicinal taste.

In addition, saffron is available in supplement form.

 

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