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Saffron

Saffron

Botanical Description & Habitat

Crocus sativus

Family
Iridaceae (Lily family)

Common Names

Autumn crocus / Meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale)
        Fall crocus
        Mysteria
        Spanish saffron (Croci stigma)
        Vellorita
        Wonder bulb

Habitat
Cultivated in France, Spain, Sicily and Iran

Medicinal Parts
The stigmas

Historical Properties & Uses

Saffron is one of the most expensive herbal medicines in the world (In U.S., about $30/lb), since it can only be produced from the delicate stigmas of the plant, and these have to collected by hand during a very brief blooming season. It takes over 200,000 dried stigmas, from about 70,000 flowers, to get one pound of true saffron.

Saffron has had many uses: expectorant, antispasmodic, anodyne, sedative, appetizer, emmenagogue, even aphrodisiac. It is applied in small doses to relieve coughs--especially whooping cough--stomach gas, colic, insomnia and poor appetite. Saffron contains a poison that in large doses intoxicates the central nervous system and causes kidney damage. Extra large doses can be lethal. Because of its high cost, saffron is not used much in herbal medicine.

True saffron should not be confused with Carthamus tinctorius, or American saffron, which is used for about the same purposes and which is used to adulterate true saffron.

Autumn crocus (Meadow saffron) has approval status by both the FDA and German Commission E for use in gout or familial Mediterranean fever.

Saffron (Croci stigma) has not achieved approval status by the German Commission E. Either there was insufficient evidence in favor, or a contraindication.

There has been some early indications of an ability to act as an anticancer agent.

References:

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Saffron contains crocin, a mixture of glycosides, the major one of which is crocetin, which is identical to gardenidin, found in gardenias. Crocetin has been patented more than once in the United States in preparations designed to treat skin papillomas, spinal cord injuries, to increase fermentation yields, to treat hypertension and edema in cats, etc.

A German patent exists, much to the chagrin of bona fide herbalists, for the prevention of premature ejaculation. The herbal remedy is a mixture of saffron, opium, strychnine, quinine, ground mussel shells of fine mussel pearls, ferric chloride and iron citrate. One wonders how much of each. The patent claims the mixture prevents said behavioral manifestation 4-5 hours following oral administration. An Australian patent exists for a saffron-containing product to treat baldness.

There does exist one legitimate patent for the use of saffron in a positive medicinal manner. It is for a compound containing crocetin increasing oxygen diffusion into solutions such as blood plasma, thereby reducing local hypoxia when injected into animals. In humans, this compound could be effectively utilized in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.

Crocetin also appears to be an active inhibitor of cholesterol absorption at least when administered i.m. or i.v. to rabbits. In some areas of Spain, where saffron is used almost on a daily basis, cardiovascular disease in relatively low.

Colchicum autumnale provides colchicine.

Saffron also contains riboflavin.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
Allopurinol has been tentatively shown to increase the half life of anticoagulants.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Colchicine and the entire plant, is toxic.

Most herbalists consider saffron safe to use in very small amounts, but regard it as abortifacient and extremely dangerous, even lethal, in large amounts.

The German Commission E notes the possibility for adverse effects with dosages over 10 g, which are used to induce an abortion.

It is therefore contraindicated during pregnancy.

In gout the daily dosage should not exceed 8 mg.


References:

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Use 1/2 to 1 cup per day

Infusion
Steep 6-10 stigmas in 1/2 cup water
Use unsweetened, a mouthful at a time

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E regarding these specific pharmacological actions.

Daily dosages are as follows:

Gout - equivalent of 1 mg colchicine initially, not to exceed 8 mg.

Familial Mediteranean fever - 0.5 - 1.5 mg of colchicine.

Lethal dosage is typically 65 mg.

References:

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Morton, JF: Major Medicinal Plants. Thomas, IL. 1977.

References

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Braun, H. & D. Frohne. Heilplanzen-Lexikon Fuer Aerzte und Apotheker. Gustav Fisher Verlag, Stuttgart, New York, 1987.

Gainer, J.L. & Chisolm, G.M. Atherosclerosis, 19, 135, 1974

Gainer, J.L. & Jones, J.R. Experentia, 31, 548, 1975.

Grisolia, S: Hypoxia, saffron and cardiovascular disease. Lancet, 1974, 7871:41.

Huang, H., Gao, Q, Cui, Z. Pharmacological studies on safflor yellow from Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius). Chin Trad Herb Drugs 15 (1984): 348-350.

The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Aug, 1993.

Martindale The Extra Pharmacopoeia, J.E.F. Reynolds. ed. 29th edition, London, The Pharmaceutical Press, 1989.

Morton, JF: Major Medicinal Plants. Thomas, IL. 1977.

Mowrey, Daniel B. Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herb Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Train Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Nair, SC et al., Antitumor activity of saffron (Crocus sativus). Cancer Let.. 1991, 57:109.

Salomi, MJ et al., Inhibitory effects of Nigella sativa and saffron (Crocus sativus) on chemical carcinogenesis in mice. Nutr. Cancer, 1991, 16:67.

U.S. Patent #3,788,468, Jan. 29, 1974.

Weiss, R.F. Herbal Medicine. Beaconsfield Publishers, LTD, Beaconsfield, England, 1988.

 


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