Saffron (In latin crocus sativus linaeus), is also called Red Gold and it is a bulbous acacia with cloves (reduced stem with a rosette of leaves touching the ground). It belongs to the family of the Iridacéeses Saffron is a perennial plant and its underground bulb like corm has a diameter of 3 to 13 cm; it is flat at the base and round-shaped on the top.

This plant has 2 types of roots The fasciculate roots which develop at the base of the mother corm, and the thick contractile roots, which develop at the base of the new corm allowing it to take the place of the old one at the end of the cycle. Its leaves are green, shiny and deciduous and they have a narrow leaf blade (2-5 mm) with pointed summits and a length of 20-50 cm.
The flowers of saffron are hermaphrodite and have 6 oval tepals: 3 petals and 3 sepals slightly perfumed,. Normally a corm gives birth to 1-8 flowers. The saffron flower’s pistil is composed by a low bulbous ovary from which a long and skinny style springs and divide in 3 brilliant red stigmas which are very scented. These stigmas are thin at the base and a bit larger at the extremity. When the flower is shiny when it opens. Moreover, saffron flowers also have 3 stamens with bi-lobed yellow anthers rich in pollen. However, saffron’s pollen is sterile and requires man’s intervention for its (asexual) reproduction.
The annual cycle of saffron has four periods: the vegetative period, the reproductive period, the dormant period and the flowering period.
Corms are produced during the vegetative period which directly follows the flowering period. This season has a 5-6 month duration and requires low temperatures. Every “parent corm” generates about 4 to 10 new corms or mini-corms of different calibres. Sometimes two years are necessary because the mini-corms reach the crucial flowering calibre. (6/7 calibres) During this period the leaves and the roots grow and some reserves are built-up in the corms. These reserves will determine the final size, quality and number of flowers of the saffron.
The reproductive period occurs in March, in transition with the vegetative period. This is the most critical phase of the development of the plant, because its’ cells increase in number and in variety. The metabolic activity of the plant is intense during this phase.
The dormant period normally starts in April. At this phase the new corms are fully developed and their size, weight and calibre will not change until the end of the cycle. In June the leaves wither and dry out, reaching the haying period, (this is a sign that the corms can be collected and opened) In summer, the plant progressively,goes into a slow down phase, and its metabolic activity nearly comes to a complete stop.
The flowering period starts approximatively at the end of August, when the corm come alive again with an increase in its metabolic activity. During this phase one or more suckers appear from the corm with a tuft of leaves which are very narrow. The flowering period ends with the birth of the saffron flower. The growth hormones have a fundamental role in the flowering development of the plant. In addition to that, environmental factors play another important role in the floral initiation.
Saffron is a short-day plant and requires days with short photo-period of less than 11 and half hours in order to blossom. Otherwise the plant cannot outgrow the vegetative phase.

Saffron History

The word “saffron” comes from the Arabic “asfar”, which means yellow, hence the word “za’afaran” which means “saffron” in Arabic.
Saffron is one of the 700 substances used for their medicinal properties and referenced in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical documents known to this day, dating to c. 1600 BC.
The Egyptians made beer with saffron and cumin. In 3000 BC, they coated mummy strips with saffron.

Saffron flower, considered as “divine”, is mentioned by Homer and Solomon in their stories.

On the island of Santorini, frescoes represent a gathering of saffron by priestesses of the Minoan civilization (1600 BC).
The Phoenicians dyed their bride’s veil and sheets of the wedding night with saffron.
In Greek mythology, a legend made reference to the flower of saffron.
Krokos was a very handsome young man, in love with a nymph, Smilax, and a friend of the god Hermes (god of thieves and merchants). While playing discus, Hermes mortally injured the young man. A drop of blood fell to the ground and a flower of saffron came out. Smilax, desperate, turned into sarsaparilla.

saffron's origin; history

Alexander the Great statue

In -326, Alexander the Great, on the doorsteps of India, stopped on a high-altitude plateau. His army was reluctant to continue the expedition, so they decided to wait for a sign. Having set up his camp, he was surprised the next morning to find his army isolated in the midst of a sea of saffron flowers that had blossomed in the night.
Not knowing this flower at all and believing it to be a curse, he packed up !… “
Alexander the Great may have taken baths with saffron and may have used it in tea or rice to cure his wounds, since his botanists were well informed about the virtues of the plant.

In Rome, Cosmus, a perfumer, created a rose water with a fragrance of saffron. The Romans used it during celebrations, because it helped to prevent migraine.
During an imperial triumph, the ground was strewn with saffron petals.
Saffron was considered an aphrodisiac and the Romans also burned it in their temples for its purifying virtues and for making offerings.

Marcus Aurelius had baths with saffron. Similarly, Cleopatra added to her donkey milk baths, Kyphi, which contained terebinth resin, saffron, honey and wine mixed with myrrh. Kyphi acted as an anti-stress.
In India, for Ayurveda, a form of traditional medicine, the plant is used to cure diseases by color (yellow for jaundice). This method is based on the doctrine of signatures, a method in which shape and appearance of plants are similar to their therapeutic properties. In Ayurveda, saffron has a Tridosha action. It acts on the three moods (Vata – water, Pitta – fire, Kapha – earth). The colour of saffron, the sacred spice of the Buddhists, is also found in the colours of the dresses that they wear.

The Muslims shave the newborn’s head and cover it with saffron and argan.
The most precious Corans were written by scribes with yellow ink of saffron.
From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, in the town of Boynes in the Beauce and the Gâtinais area, saffron was part of the dowry of girls.
Nowadays, the cultivation of saffron remains very scattered in many regions, with farms of very small sizes.


Saffron Economy

Saffron is known to be the most expensive spice in the world. That is why it is called “Red Gold”.
Its rare nature and qualities, as well as the demanding work it requires, which is completely artisanal and respectful of the environment, explain saffron’s high price.
Moreover, it is important to say that almost 200 flowers are necessary to obtain one gram of dry saffron.

Iran is the biggest saffron producer in the world, producing almost 120 tons. It is followed by India (30-50 tons), Greece (6 tons), Morocco (4 tons), Spain and Italy ( 1 ton each one) and finally by France (40 kg).
In spite of a recent renewal, the production of saffron in France is still moderate. However until the end of 19th century, France produced 100 tons of saffron par year.

The production of saffron amounts to almost 200 tons worldwide, while the global sales reach 400 tons.
This huge difference between the production and the sales is due to the fact that saffron is the most adulterated product in the world; 86% of the saffron sold, is estimated to be adulterated.
In order to distinguish the different types and qualities of saffron, the PGI trademark (Protected Geographical Indication) does already exist in Italy, Spain and Greece.

At the European level the ISO standard 3632 has been defined in order to determine 4 categories of saffron.

At the moment our association aims at obtaining a Protected Geographical Indication label (IGP).
Presently, no appellation exists today in France for saffron.

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