Saffron and other plant nutrients are derived from saffron, a flowering herb that contains an aromatic mixture of a broad range of aromatic herbs and spices. It has been traditionally cultivated for its use in making incense, but today, many of us are turning to saffron for healthy foods because it has a rich and powerful blend of nutrients, most of which are available without much chemical inputs.
Saffron has a long history of use as medicine. Many ancient Greek authors claimed that the fragrant herb could help strengthen the immune system, improve eyesight and treat a host of diseases (1). In ancient Greek pharmacy, saffron was called by many names. Some names included: dothraki, vargoura, chola, doros, thamos or chamomilla. In medieval Europe, saffron became a staple ingredient in curries. It was also used in medicine, in herbal teas, and in the food industry as an alternative protein source such as meat stock, gelatin or shellfish oil (2). Today, saffron is becoming an important food ingredient as it has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits.
Saffron in the food industry
Saffron has a long history of being marketed and sold as a food ingredient. In the United States, it is marketed as “saffron flour,” “saffron gum,” “saffron oil” and “saffron milk” (1). It is sold as a supplement and has been described as a “green power” or “nutrient blend” supplement, but it actually has a high concentration (about 1/8 to 1/3 of what it would be in whole grains) in certain “foods.” It is also sold as a “food coloring,” “oil,” “vitamins/minerals” and a “vegetable,” among other things. These products are often marketed under misleading or false labels (3).
One of the earliest examples of a product claiming to be dietary saffron is the Herbal Digestives Products, Inc. (“DDP”), founded by Dr. Frank E. Muth. The company’s slogan, DDP, was derived from the word “DDP,” which signifies “dietary” or “dietary supplement.” They advertised their products as a “dietary supplement,” “food coloring,” a “vegetable oil” and a “food flavoring
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