Crocus |ˈkrōkəs| noun ( pl. -cuses or -ci |-kī; -sī|)
a small, spring-flowering plant of the iris family, which grows from a corm and bears bright yellow, purple, or white flowers. See also autumn crocus.
• Genus Crocus, family Iridaceae.
ORIGIN late Middle English (also denoting saffron, obtained from a species of crocus): via Latin from Greek krokos, of Semitic origin and related to Hebrew karkōm and Arabic kurkum
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
- Sun exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun
- Soil type: Any, Loamy
- Flower color: Pink, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Purple, White
- Bloom time: Winter, Spring
Crocus (plural: crocuses, croci) is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family comprising 90 species of perennials growing from corms. Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring.
The cup-shaped, solitary, salverform flowers taper off into a narrow tube. Their color varies enormously, although lilac, mauve, yellow and white are predominant. The grass-like, ensiform leaf shows generally a white central stripe along the leaf axis. The leaf margin is entire. Crocuses typically have three stamens. The spice saffron is obtained from the stigmas of Crocus sativus, an autumn/fall-blooming species.
Most crocus species and hybrids should be planted in a sunny position, in gritty, well-drained soil, although a few prefer shadier sites in moist soil. Some are suitable for naturalising in grass. The corms should be planted about 3 to 4 cm deep; in heavy soils a quantity of sharp grit should be worked in to improve drainage.
From snow crocuses (the first to bloom) to giant Dutch crocuses, all just 2 to 4 inches tall, these blooms offer a variety in color (pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, purples, blues, and more) that stand out against the bleak late-winter landscape. Many have strong perfumes that lure bees out of their hives in February or March.
Though some true crocus bloom with the fall (autumnal) rains, after summer's heat and drought, the name autumn crocus is often used as a common name for Colchicum, which is in its own family (Colchicaceae) in the lily order Liliales, and which has six stamens; it is also known as meadow saffron, though unlike true saffron, the plant is toxic.
The prairie crocus or pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
Saffron = Crocus Sativus
The domesticated saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, is an autumn-flowering perennial plant unknown in the wild. Its progenitors are possibly the eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering Crocus cartwrightianus, which is also known as "wild saffron" and originated in Greece. The saffron crocus likely resulted when C. cartwrightianus was subjected to extensive artificial selection by growers seeking longer stigmas. C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible sources.
It is a sterile triploid form, which means that three homologous sets of chromosomes compose each specimen's genetic complement; C. sativus bears eight chromosomal bodies per set, making for 24 in total. Being sterile, the purple flowers of Crocus sativus fail to produce viable seeds; reproduction hinges on human assistance: corms, underground bulb-like starch-storing organs, must be dug up, broken apart, and replanted.
A corm survives for one season, producing via this vegetative division up to ten "cormlets" that can grow into new plants in the next season. The compact corms are small brown globules that can measure as large as 5 centimetres (2.0 in) in diameter, have a flat base, and are shrouded in a dense mat of parallel fibres; this coat is referred to as the "corm tunic". Corms also bear vertical fibres, thin and net-like, that grow up to 5 cm above the plant's neck.
The plant grows to a height of 20–30 cm (8–12 in), and sprouts 5–11 white and non-photosynthetic leafs known as cataphylls. They are membrane-like structures that cover and protect the crocus's 5–11 true leaves as they bud and develop. The latter are thin, straight, and blade-like green foliage leaves, which are 1–3 mm in diameter, either expand after the flowers have opened ("hysteranthous") or do so simultaneously with their blooming ("synanthous"). C. sativus cataphylls are suspected by some to manifest prior to blooming when the plant is irrigated relatively early in the growing season.
Its floral axes, or flower-bearing structures, bear bracteoles, or specialised leaves that sprout from the flower stems; the latter are known as pedicels. After aestivating in spring, the plant sends up its true leaves, each up to 40 cm (16 in) in length. In autumn, purple buds appear. Only in October, after most other flowering plants have released their seeds, do its brilliantly hued flowers develop; they range from a light pastel shade of lilac to a darker and more striated mauve. The flowers possess a sweet, honey-like fragrance. Upon flowering, plants average less than 30 cm (12 in) in height. A three-pronged style emerges from each flower. Each prong terminates with a vivid crimson stigma 25–30 mm (0.98–1.2 in) in length.
Crocus Flower Foods (Saffron)
Crocus sativus, a fall-flowering crocus, is the commercial source of saffron!
Saffron is actually the stigmas (female reproductive part) of the Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) plant. Each mature plant contains only three bright red stigmas.
Saffron’s insanely labor intensive production is the reason for its place on any "Most Expensive" list. The Saffron Crocus variety is the only one of 75 species of crocus with the right stuff to produce saffron. Contrary to its spring-blooming brethren, the Saffron Crocus blooms in autumn. With only three stigmas per plant, it takes a lot of plants to deliver a decent yield. A pound of saffron requires about 225,000 stigmas; at three per plant, that’s about 75,000 plants – grown over an area the size of a football field. This one-pound harvest takes the better part of a week.
Quoted prices for saffron vary widely. Authentic, high-quality saffron ranges in price from $1600 to $5000 per pound. Fake or inferior "saffron" abound. In a fake product, crocus stigmas are substituted with dyed corn threads, and sold in bulk. Authentic saffron is usually sold in one-gram packets, and is expensive. If you think you have inexpensive saffron, you do not have saffron. Merchants caught selling fake saffron in Bavaria in 1444 were burned alive.
As of this writing the best price I can find on the Internet for saffron is $92.95 an ounce, free shipping, marked down from $144. Why is it expensive? Because "saffron" is the three red stigmas of the flower and must be picked by hand. Limited amount, labor intensive. It is the most costly spice by weight. Then again, one uses very little of it. Saffron is acually a crocus, Crocus sativus. It does not grow in the wild and is totally cultivated by man. Technically it is a monomorphic clone and believed to be a mutant form of Crocus cartwrightianus.
The Greeks were the first to cultivate it, probably on Crete. Historians tell us it has been bought and sold for over four thousand years. Ninety percent of the world’s saffron comes from Iran. The styles are used to flavor and color sauces, creams, breads, preserves, curries, rice, soups, caked, puddings, eggs even butter and cheese. It can be a tea substitute and the roots roasted. It’s not a spice you keep on hand. Usually purchased for a dish specific. It takes about 13,125 dried stigmas to weigh an ounce. Oh, I forgot to mention: In large amounts saffron is deadly. That’s an expensive way to go.
You should be very careful while buying saffron as there are many adulterated and fake saffron being sold in the market due to its high price. Make sure to get it from genuine stores. Here is one of the easiest ways to confirm whether it's fake or not: genuine saffron when soaked in warm milk or water would release its golden yellow color and arama instantly and fake ones wouldn't give out any color or takes a long time. Also genuine saffron has a metallic or rustic aroma.
Cooking literature describes the aroma and taste of saffron in a range from delicate, flowery, and perfume-like, through hay-like, musky and earthy, to medicinal. As a spice, the adage "a little goes a long way" applies. Foods benefiting most from its addition include risotto, eggs, mushrooms, seafood, spinach and potatoes. International dishes include Moroccan cuisine using chicken and lamb, French bouillabaisse, Spanish paellas and sopas de pescado, and Indian Biryani (spicy rice & chicken).
Saffron's aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange colouring to foods. Saffron is widely used in Indian, Persian, European, Arab, and Turkish cuisines. Confectioneries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, which is often sold as "Portuguese saffron" or "açafrão"), annatto, and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery. It is used for religious purposes in India, and is widely used in cooking in many cuisines, ranging from the Milanese risotto of Italy to the bouillabaisse of France to the biryani with various meat accompaniments in South Asia.
Saffron (pronounced /ˈsæfrən/ or /ˈsæfrɒn/) is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Crocus is a genus in the family Iridaceae. Each saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are each the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight, is native to Greece or Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece. As a genetically monomorphic clone, it was slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.
The saffron crocus, unknown in the wild, likely descends from Crocus cartwrightianus, which originated in Crete; C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible precursors. The saffron crocus is a triploid that is "self-incompatible" and male sterile; it undergoes aberrant meiosis and is hence incapable of independent sexual reproduction—all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual "divide-and-set" of a starter clone or by interspecific hybridisation. If C. sativus is a mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, then it may have emerged via plant breeding, which would have selected for elongated stigmas, in late Bronze-Age Crete.
Saffron's bitter taste and iodoform- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Its recorded history is attested in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical treatise compiled under Ashurbanipal, and it has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for approximately 90 percent of the world production of saffron.
The bitter glucoside picrocrocin is responsible for saffron's flavour. Picrocrocin (chemical formula: C16H26O7; systematic name: 4-(β-D-glucopyranosyloxy)-2,6,6- trimethylcyclohex-1-ene-1-carboxaldehyde) is a union of an aldehyde sub-element known as safranal (systematic name: 2,6,6-trimethylcyclohexa-1,3-diene-1-carboxaldehyde) and a carbohydrate. It has insecticidal and pesticidal properties, and may comprise up to 4% of dry saffron. Picrocrocin is a truncated version of the carotenoid zeaxanthin that is produced via oxidative cleavage, and is the glycoside of the terpene aldehyde safranal. The reddish-coloured zeaxanthin is, incidentally, one of the carotenoids naturally present within the retina of the human eye.
To glean 1 lb (450 g) of dry saffron requires the harvest of 50,000–75,000 flowers; a kilogram requires 110,000–170,000 flowers. Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers. Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound, or US$1,100–11,000/kg, equivalent to £2,500/€3,500 per pound or £5,500/€7,500 per kilogram. The price in Canada recently rose to CAD 18,000 per kilogram. In Western countries, the average retail price in 1974 was $1,000/£500/€700 per pound, or US$2,200/£1,100/€1,550 per kilogram. In February, 2013, a retail bottle containing .06 ounces could be purchased for $16.26 or the equivalent of $4,336 per pound or as little as about $2,000/pound in larger quantities. A pound contains between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson coloring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.
Crocus Flower Drinks & Beverages
Scientists know that Egyptian physicians were using saffron as a digestive around 1600 BC. Most probably, the origin is Iran or Greece (from "krokos").
Saffron is also one of the more exotic ingredients in several Italian liqueurs. Strega Herbal Liqueur, produced in Benevento, Italy since the mid-1800s, consists of about 70 herbal ingredients, bottled at 80 proof. It has a strong mint or coniferous taste, and is used to flavor torta caprese, a traditional Italian chocolate and almond or walnut cake named for the island of Capri, where it originated. Fernet Branca is a bitter, aromatic spirit made with dozens of herbs, including saffron. It dates to the mid-1800s and is bottled at 86 proof. Its base is grape alcohol. Fernet Branca is commonly added to coffee and espresso drinks, and it is also considered an excellent hangover cure.
Fernet Branca is a bitter, aromatic spirit from Italy invented in Milan in 1845 by the Italian Maria Scala, married Branca, as a stomach medicine. Since then, the Fratelli Branca distillery produces the drink according to a secret family recipe with 27 herbs from five continents. According to the manufacturer Fernet Branca includes aloe from South Africa, rhubarb from China, gentian from France, galangal from India or Sri Lanka, chamomile from Italy and Argentina, saffron, myrrh and elderflower. Fernet Branca is aged at least one year in oak barrels. The alcohol content is 39 or 40%, in Italy and Austria 43%. The same manufacturer offers also a sweeter bitter, Brancamenta.
Made from a formula first developed in Italy in 1845, Fernet-Branca was originally marketed as a medicine to aid digestion, and over the years, it's been claimed to help everything from hangovers to cholera. Part of a larger family of Italian herbal liqueurs called amari (singular amaro, meaning "bitter"), Fernet-Branca is now one of several brands of fernet available on the international market (others include Fernet Stock and Luxardo Fernet Amaro), but remains the most iconically famous. The distiller Branca also makes a powerful mint-flavored liqueur called Branca-Menta. Fernet-Branca is especially popular in Argentina - and San Francisco.
On first sip, Fernet-Branca is just plain bitter. But let it settle on your tongue a moment and the full, dark complexity of its flavors really starts to shine. Made from a secret recipe that is said to include a combination of as many as 40 different botanicals, including roots, bark, herbs, and spices such as saffron and cardamom, Fernet-Branca has a whole lot going on in the taste department. There's something decidedly, well, medicinal about it, but also something surprisingly clean and bracing. It has a thicker, more syrupy texture than Campari, and, at 40% alcohol, packs a much boozier punch. It's a liqueur with a bite - and bark.
Saffron Milk with Basil Seeds
A perfect rejuvenating drink with many health benefits…
A pinch of saffron goes a long way. Saffron is derived from the stigma and styles of the Crocus flower and is the most expensive spice in the world. Gathering the stigmas from the flower is a labour intensive process and several thousands of stigmas are needed to make a few grams of saffron. Besides this, it has many health benefits and is excellent for treating asthma, depression, whooping cough and many other ailments.
Saffron is added in most of the Indian desserts, sweets and for garnishing Biryani’s. A pinch of saffron when soaked in warm milk will release its golden color and aroma. It would instantly enhance the aroma and the flavor of any dish especially desserts.
A very common myth about saffron is that when saffron milk is regularly consumed, it would help in skin lightening. It’s just saffron helps in improving the circulation of the blood and heals some skin problems, some people misunderstand that it helps to enhance the skin fairness.
My favorite spice is without any doubt saffron, I tend to add it to almost all desserts and sweets. One of my favorite ways of consuming saffron is by adding it to chilled milk. Saffron milk when drank at night would help to relaxe your body and you’ll have a sound sleep. The other day when I made saffron milk, I also added basil seeds to it. Basil seeds when soaked in water would plum up and can be added to any drinks. It doesn’t have any flavor but it soothes your body and mind and has a lot of medicinal properties.
Saffron and basil seeds when added to milk makes a very healthy and soothing drink.
"When I was a small child and was coming down with a cold or the flu, my mother would serve me warm milk with saffron. The saffron made the milk a bright yellow/orange color, which I thought was neat as a child. Saffron is thought to have medicinal properties and is often given to children who are ill in the Middle East and India. Consult your doctor before giving your child an herb for medicinal purposes."
This is a delicious nighttime beverage and is also terrific over ice for a cooler.
- 8 cups milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1-1/2 tablespoon saffron threads
Honey, Saffron & Ginger Champagne Cocktail
- 1 ounce of Honey and Saffron Liquor
- 1 tablespoon of Morris Kitchen Ginger Syrup
(or more if you like a lot of ginger)
- Champagne, chilled
- Flavored sugar (I used this Bourbon Smoked Sugar)
- A spring of thyme
- Dip the top edge of an upright Champagne glass in a bit of water. Whip off any big drops by shaking your wrist while holding the glass. Dip the top edge of that glass into the sugar.
- To the glass, add the liquor and the syrup. Fill the glass with Champagne. Garnish with the thyme.
- Drink. Make again and drink again!
Note: You could leave out the ginger syrup and still have a stellar cocktail. I consider the Honey and Saffron Liquor mixed with Champagne my cook’s treat before dinner party guests arrive.
More Crocus Drinks & Beverages
- Organic Mediterranean beverage with Kozani crocus and rosemary: a blend of Aniseed, Fennel, Rosemary and Hibiscus, herbs traditionally used in the Mediterranean region to improve digestion.
- Organic aromatic beverage with Kozani crocus and sage: including Sage, Peppermint, Lemongrass, and Louisa, herbs used to relieve the common cold.
- Organic warming up beverage with Kozani crocus and spices: cinnamon mixture, cloves, hibiscus and orange peel, ideal for low temperatures. The herbs contained are traditionally known for their toning and warming properties.
- Organic black tea with Kozani crocus and lemon: hot or cold, is a blend of mint and lemon peel, rich in antioxidant ingredients, used as a stimulant - spasmolytic.
- Organic traditional beverage with Kozani crocus and honey: mixture of blackberries, orange, lemon and rose flowers, herbs known as natural sources of vitamin C.
Crocus Flower Health Benefits
Crocus sativus, a fall-flowering crocus, is the commercial source of saffron!
Saffron: An Anti-Depressant Herb used for:
- digestive problems
- treat menstrual disorders
- difficult labor
- throat diseases
- control bleeding
In small doses, Saffron promotes production of gastric juices. But pregnant women need to beware. Large doses cause contractions in the smooth muscle of the uterus and may induce abortion. The medicinal properties attributed to saffron are extensive. Topically, it is applied to improve overall skin condition and to treat acne. And internally it is used to:
- improve blood circulation
- regulate menstruation
- treat digestive disturbance
- ease cough and asthmatic breathing
- reduce fever and inflammation
- calm nervousness
- alleviate depression
In Tibet, saffron is often an ingredient in medicinal incenses; it is considered a tonic for the heart and the nervous system. The active ingredients may be beneficial in inhibiting growth of cancer cells.
Saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing; several modern research studies have hinted that the spice has possible anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. Saffron stigmas, and even petals, may be helpful for depression. Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. (Most saffron-related research refers to the stigmas, but this is often not made explicit in research papers.) Other controlled research studies have indicated that saffron may have many potential medicinal properties.
Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Documentation of saffron's use over the span of 4,000 years in the treatment of some 90 illnesses has been uncovered. Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran. The Sumerians later used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture's 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron (Crocus sativus 'Hausknechtii') in Derbena, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Non-Persians also feared the Persians' usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.
Some historians believe that saffron came to China with Mongol invaders from Persia. Yet saffron is mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts, including the forty-volume pharmacopoeia titled Shennong Bencaojing (神農本草經: "Shennong's Great Herbal", also known as Pen Ts'ao or Pun Tsao), a tome dating from 200–300 BC. Traditionally credited to the fabled Yan ("Fire") Emperor (炎帝) Shennong, it discusses 252 phytochemical-based medical treatments for various disorders. Nevertheless, around the 3rd century AD, the Chinese were referring to saffron as having a Kashmiri provenance. According to Chinese herbalist Wan Zhen, "[t]he habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to the Buddha." Wan also reflected on how it was used in his time: "The flower withers after a few days, and then the saffron is obtained. It is valued for its uniform yellow colour. It can be used to aromatise wine."
The Minoans portrayed saffron in their palace frescoes by 1500–1600 BC; they hint at its possible use as a therapeutic drug. Ancient Greek legends told of sea voyages to Cilicia, where adventurers sought what they thought to be the world's most valued threads. Another legend tells of Crocus and Smilax, whereby Crocus is bewitched and transformed into the first saffron crocus. Ancient perfumers in Egypt, physicians in Gaza, townspeople in Rhodes, and the Greek hetaerae courtesans used saffron in their scented waters, perfumes and potpourris, mascaras and ointments, divine offerings, and medical treatments.
In late Hellenistic Egypt, Cleopatra used saffron in her baths so that lovemaking would be more pleasurable. Egyptian healers used saffron as a treatment for all varieties of gastrointestinal ailments. Saffron was also used as a fabric dye in such Levantine cities as Sidon and Tyre. Aulus Cornelius Celsus prescribes saffron in medicines for wounds, cough, colic, and scabies, and in the mithridatium. Such was the Romans' love of saffron that Roman colonists took it with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until Rome's fall. Competing theories state that saffron only returned to France with 8th-century AD Moors or with the Avignon papacy in the 14th century AD.
Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. It also has many nonvolatile active components, many of which are carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, and various α- and β-carotenes. However, saffron's golden yellow-orange colour is primarily the result of α-crocin. This crocin is trans-crocetin di-(β-D-gentiobiosyl) ester; it bears the systematic (IUPAC) name 8,8-diapo-8,8-carotenoic acid. This means that the crocin underlying saffron's aroma is a digentiobiose ester of the carotenoid crocetin. Crocins themselves are a series of hydrophilic carotenoids that are either monoglycosyl or diglycosyl polyene esters of crocetin. Crocetin is a conjugated polyene dicarboxylic acid that is hydrophobic, and thus oil-soluble. When crocetin is esterified with two water-soluble gentiobioses, which are sugars, a product results that is itself water-soluble. The resultant α-crocin is a carotenoid pigment that may comprise more than 10% of dry saffron's mass. The two esterified gentiobioses make α-crocin ideal for colouring water-based and non-fatty foods such as rice dishes.
Crocus Flower International Cultures
One legend tells of Hermes, son of Zeus, and his friend, Crocus, throwing a discus to each other. Hermes hit Crocus on the head, fatally wounding him. As Crocus lay dying, three drops of his blood fell on the center of a flower, thus becoming the three stigmas of the flower named after him.
The financial community sometimes refers to companies or economic sectors that rise early after an economic downturn as "crocuses" in reference to the flower's ability to thrive in the late winter or early spring.
Crocuses are native to woodland, scrub and meadows from sea level to alpine tundra in central and southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, on the islands of the Aegean, and across Central Asia to western China.
Cultivation and harvesting of crocus was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete. Frescos showing them are extant at the Knossos site on Crete as well as from a comparably aged site on Santorini.
Conflicting theories explain saffron's arrival in South Asia. Kashmiri and Chinese accounts date its arrival anywhere between 900–2500 years ago. Historians studying ancient Persian records date the arrival to sometime prior to 500 BC,attributing it to a Persian transplantation of saffron corms to stock new gardens and parks. Phoenicians then marketed Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Its use in foods and dyes subsequently spread throughout South Asia. Buddhist monks wear saffron-coloured robes; however, the robes are not dyed with costly saffron but turmeric, a less expensive dye, or jackfruit. Monks' robes are dyed the same color to show equality with each other, and turmeric or ochre were the cheapest, most readily available dyes. Gamboge is now used to dye the robes.
European saffron cultivation plummeted after the Roman Empire went into eclipse. As with France, the spread of Islamic civilization may have helped reintroduce the crop to Spain and Italy. The 14th-century Black Death caused demand for saffron-based medicaments to peak, and large quantities of threads had to be imported via Venetian and Genoan ships from southern and Mediterranean lands such as Rhodes; the theft of one such shipment by noblemen sparked the fourteen-week long "Saffron War". The conflict and resulting fear of rampant saffron piracy spurred corm cultivation in Basel; it thereby grew prosperous. The crop then spread to Nuremberg, where endemic and insalubrious adulteration brought on the Safranschou code—whereby culprits were variously fined, imprisoned, and executed. The corms soon spread throughout England, especially Norfolk and Suffolk. The Essex town of Saffron Walden, named for its new speciality crop, emerged as England's prime saffron growing and trading centre. However, an influx of more exotic spices—chocolate, coffee, tea, and vanilla—from newly contacted Eastern and overseas countries caused European cultivation and usage of saffron to decline. Only in southern France, Italy, and Spain did the clone significantly endure.
Europeans introduced saffron to the Americas when immigrant members of the Schwenkfelder Church left Europe with a trunk containing its corms; church members had widely grown it in Europe. By 1730, the Pennsylvania Dutch were cultivating saffron throughout eastern Pennsylvania. Spanish colonies in the Caribbean bought large amounts of this new American saffron, and high demand ensured that saffron's list price on the Philadelphia commodities exchange was set equal to that of gold. The trade with the Caribbean later collapsed in the aftermath of the War of 1812, when many saffron-bearing merchant vessels were destroyed. Yet the Pennsylvania Dutch continued to grow lesser amounts of saffron for local trade and use in their cakes, noodles, and chicken or trout dishes. American saffron cultivation survived into modern times mainly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Today, about 90% of the world’s saffron comes from Iran. India is the largest importer, not for flavoring, but for dying fabric the official yellow color of Buddhist robes. Other large producers dominating the world production of saffron are Iran, the La Mancha region of Spain, Kashmir, Turkey, Greece and Morocco. A great French video describes growing and harvesting Moroccan saffron near Marrakech.
Crocus Flower Ancestors
C. cartwrightianus is the presumed wild precursor of the domesticated and now widely cultivated triploid Crocus sativus = the saffron crocus flower. Crocus cartwrightianus is a species of flowering plant in the family Iridaceae, native to Greece and Crete. It is a cormous perennial growing to 5 cm (2 in). The flowers, in shades of lilac or white with purple veins and prominent red stigmas, appear with the leaves in autumn and winter.
This species is commonly found growing on limestone soil areas of the Attica Peninsula of Greece. There is evidence that this plant was cultivated in ancient Crete at least as early as the Middle Minoan Period, as exhibited by a mural, the "Saffron Gatherer", illustrating the gathering of crocuses. This plant, and the cultivar 'Albus' (with pure white flowers), have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
The documented history of saffron cultivation spans more than three millennia. The wild precursor of domesticated saffron crocus was Crocus cartwrightianus. Human cultivators bred wild specimens by selecting for unusually long stigmas; thus, a sterile mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, C. sativus, likely emerged in late Bronze Age Crete.
The ultimate origin of the English word saffron is, like that of the cultivated saffron clone itself, of somewhat uncertain origin. It immediately stems from the Latin word safranum via the 12th-century Old French term safran. Safranum derives from the Persian intercessor زعفران, or za'ferân. Old Persian is the first language in which the use of saffron in cooking is recorded, with references dating back thousands of years.
The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. A few corms were forwarded to Carolus Clusius at the botanical garden in Leiden. By 1620, the approximate date of Ambrosius Bosschaert's painting, new garden varieties had been developed, such as the cream-colored crocus feathered with bronze at the base of the bouquet, similar to varieties still on the market. Bosschaert, working from a preparatory drawing to paint his composed piece spanning the whole of Spring, exaggerated the crocus so that it passes for a tulip, but its narrow, grasslike leaves give it away.
Approximately 30 of the species are cultivated. Cultivated varieties mainly represent five species: C. vernus, C. chrysanthus, C. flavus, C. sieberi and C. tommasinianus. Among the first flowers to bloom in spring, crocuses are popular with gardeners. Their flowering time varies from the late winter C. tommasinianus to the later large hybridized and selected Giant "Dutch crocuses" (C. vernus). Crocus flowers and leaves are protected from frost by a waxy cuticle; in areas where snow and frost occasionally occur in the early spring, it is not uncommon to see early-flowering crocus blooming through a light late snowfall.
Crocus related varieties: The large-flowered Dutch hybrids (generally hybrids of Crocus vernus) bear 2- to 3-inch flowers in a full range of colors in early spring. The so-called winter-flowering crocuses, such as C. chrysanthus, offer a wide color range. These crocuses are simply very early flowering versions of spring crocuses. While they may bloom as early as January in warm climates, they bloom only a few days earlier than "spring-flowering" crocuses in colder regions. These winter-flowering crocuses bear smaller but more numerous flowers than Dutch hybrids and spread more rapidly when naturalized. C. sativus, a fall-flowering crocus, is the commercial source of saffron.
- 'Bowles White' produces white flowers with deep golden yellow throats in early spring. It grows 2 to 3 inches tall.
- 'Flower Record' has single pale violet flowers in spring to early summer. It grows 4 to 5 inches tall.
- 'Pickwick' is a striped crocus with alternating pale and dark lilac and dark purple bases. It's 4 to 5 inches tall and blooms in spring to early summer.
- 'Tricolor Crocus' is a beauty. Each narrow flower has three distinct bands of lilac, white, and golden yellow. It grows 3 inches tall and blooms in late winter and early spring.
- 'Purpureus Grandiflorus' has abundance violet flowers with purple bases. It grows 4 to 5 inches tall and blooms spring to early summer.