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Saffron may be the most prized spice, according to Ayurveda. Harvested from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, recent research is giving credibility to why our ancestors used to compare saffron’s value to gold. (1)
Numerous studies suggest that saffron offers a wealth of health benefits including mood support, reduction in dietary cravings, as well as enhanced learning and memory support. During periods of detoxification and during regular chemical exposure to environmental pollutants, saffron may offer important support for the body’s natural immune response. (2)
According to Ayurveda, saffron is the most potent of all ojas-building foods for the body. Ojas translates as “immunity” or “vitality.” It is a rare and precious substance that the body manufactures after 30 days and is created through the more subtle aspects of the digestive process.
Unfortunately, the crocuses that are breaking through the spring thaw are not the saffron-producing type. The Crocus sativus, from which the saffron comes, is a bulb that is harvested in the autumn. That said, you can find planted bulbs in nurseries or online that can be planted this spring to enjoy your very own crocus saffron tea in fall. After the autumn harvest of saffron, like most spices, it is traditionally saved and used in cooking throughout the winter, spring and summer as an all-season or tri-doshic spice.
However, before you run out to buy some crocus bulbs, there is one thing you should know. It takes about 160,000 crocus flowers to make about a pound of saffron, which also makes saffron prohibitively expensive. (1)
The good news is that a little goes a long way. Crocetin, which is the natural chemical that gives saffron its color and some of its health properties, can dye liquids a rich yellow color up to 150,000 times its own weight. (1) A small pinch is a traditional dose to support building ojas in the body. The crocetin in saffron has also shown intriguing effects in supporting the body’s central nervous system function. (3)
The other health-promoting constituents of saffron are safranal and crocin, which are members of the carotenoid or vitamin A family. These constituents have shown to support a healthy immune response against foreign microbes. (4) Perhaps the reason for all the compelling science behind saffron is that it increases oxygen diffusion into the plasma of the blood and specifically into the lungs and brain. (5)
In the spring, when the harvest is more austere, consuming 30mg (about 1 measuring tsp) of saffron has been shown to reduce cravings by 55% in one study, making it easier to navigate through eating in sync with the springtime harvest and encouraging a natural fat metabolic state. (6) This is nature’s major message each spring, helping us all become better fat burners.
Fat burning not only supports weight loss, but also helps us to detoxify and stabilize our blood sugar and mood. Saffron has also shown to support mood stability in times of stress and around the menstrual cycle, (2,7) as well as cognitive function – likely due to its ability to support the healthy function of nerve cells. (2,8)
Saffron is one of the most powerful spices on your spice rack and many of us forget to use it. Make an effort to use saffron regularly and enjoy!