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All About Saffron - Health Benefits and Growing Guide

If you ever had the chance to check out our recipe website, you probably know that we adore spices. Reaching beyond the classic salt and pepper duo will open up a world of aromas, flavors, textures, qualities, and even health benefits for your cooking. But it’s no secret that not all spices are made equal, and some are significantly more expensive than others. Topping that list is saffron. One possible solution to this is to grow it by yourself. If you’re up for the journey, read on. 

What is saffron?

Growing saffron - saffron flowers and spice

Saffron is the female part of the reproductive system of the Autumn Crocus flower, also called Crocus Sativus. Each flower produces three little saffron strands, deep red at the top and bright yellow at the bottom.

Apart from being a unique spice, saffron is also used to produce a natural golden dye, and has been found by multiple studies to have many health benefits. It supports liver function and cardiovascular health, prevents Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, improves memory, relieves depression and anxiety, and acts as an aphrodisiac. It also helps with symptoms of PMS.

Saffron is a staple spice in Persian cuisine and gives paella its signature color.

Why is it so expensive?

Growing saffron - closeup on flower

Being a saffron farmer isn’t exactly a cost-effective business. One acre of land will produce only 4 pounds of saffron. Its taste is highly affected by temperatures, humidity, irrigation, and soil. Harvesting saffron is a highly laborious process, based purely on manual labor; no machine can do the delicate work required to pluck the saffron strands from the flower.

It can take as much as 40 hours of manual labor to produce just 2 pounds of saffron. It takes as much as 150 flowers to produce just 1g of saffron. On Amazon, saffron sells at about $200 per ounce. At the local grocers, the rate can go as high as $1000 per ounce.

The high demand and profitable potential of the saffron business lead many people to sell fake saffron. They use corn silks, coconut fiber, horse hair, or a mix of high-grade and low-grade saffron, all dyed red to seem like saffron.

Wondering how you can tell real safron from fake? This video will help:



How to grow it at home

Growing saffron - saffron in a tube

Convinced yet? Get your hands on some Autumn Crocus bulbs and let’s get gardening!
Know before you go:
The flowers bloom for about six weeks from late September to early December. Plant the bulbs 6 to 8 weeks before that.
You’ll need well-drained, highly fertile soil. A combination of 50% regular soil, 30% compost, and 20% fine sand will do perfectly.
Saffron needs 4 - 5 hours of direct sun daily. A south-facing wall is optimal.
In terms of USDA hardiness zones, zones 5-8 are the most hospitable for saffron.

1. After preparing the soil mix, plant the bulbs stem side up, so that the bulb is fully covered in soil and the stem is above ground. Water generously.
2. After watering for the first time, water only when the top soil is dry.
3. You can expect new leaves to emerge from the stem within 6 days of planting. 

The flowers are best picked in the morning. You can use your fingers or tweezers to pluck the red strands out. Let your freshly picked saffron dry completely in a shaded place before storing it in an airtight container away from the sun.

Now that you've got your homemade organic saffron, here's a quick and easy recipe for Indian saffron milk.

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