It originated in Greece, where it was revered for its medicinal properties. People would eat saffron to enhance libido, boost mood, and improve memory
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
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
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
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
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
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
What’s more, both the saffron petals and thread-like stigma appear to be effective against mild-to-moderate depression
While these findings are promising, longer human studies with more participants are needed before saffron can be recommended as a treatment for depression.
3. May Have Cancer-Fighting Properties
Saffron is high in antioxidants, which help neutralize harmful free radicals. Free radical damage has been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer
In test-tube studies, saffron and its compounds have been shown to selectively kill colon cancer cells or suppress their growth, while leaving normal cells unharmed
This effect also applies to skin, bone marrow, prostate, lung, breast, cervix, and several other cancer cells
What’s more, test-tube studies have found that crocin — the main antioxidant in saffron — may make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs
While these findings from test-tube studies are promising, the anticancer effects of saffron are poorly studied in humans, and more research is needed.
4. 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.
5. 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
Another study found that simply smelling saffron for 20 minutes helped reduce PMS symptoms like anxiety and lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol