Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice by weight. Herbalists claim that saffron possesses anti-cancer activity, but these claims are yet to be evaluated critically by medical experts. However certain compounds and saffron have positive effects in lowering blood cholesterol and triglycerides among heart patients. In ancient cultures, saffron was used to relieve stomach aches and kidney stones and also as an agent in improving the circulation of blood.
Some independent studies suggest that the use of saffron meet have beneficial effects on enhancing memory. While some medical research demonstrates the beneficial properties and activities of saffron such as memory enhancing, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties, the medical lobby at large is skeptical about the many claims of saffron.
There are only two or three places in the whole world where saffron grows. Kashmir has the privilege of being one of these places. There are two locations in Kashmir where saffron grows. One of these two places is Pampur. Pampur is a small town, which is 13 km from Srinagar. The saffron plant is very small and its flower is the only part which is seen above the ground. The blooming time of this flower in autumn. Saffron has a unique sweet smell.
The botanical name of Saffron is Crocus sativus. The purple colored flowers appear just above the ground and are a beautiful sight. The orange stigmas of the saffron plant are harvested as saffron and used as a flavoring and coloring agent in various recipes. Saffron is added to Kahwa – the traditional Saffron Tea drunk by people in Kashmir.
A hundred Kg of fresh flowers yield about three Kilograms of dehydrated stigmas, which constitute the finest and the most expensive saffron, called “Shahi Zafran”, The remaining flower parts are processed further to attain inferior grades called “Mogra Zafran”.
“Saffron flowers bloom for about three weeks from mid-October to the first days of November. To see them during the day is nice. But seeing (and smelling) them on a moonlight October night is an experience even emperors notably ‘Jehangir’, the Mughal- would crave for.”
Uses of Saffron
Saffron has been used as spice and coloring agent for many centuries and has numerous medicinal properties. It is by far one of the oldest herbs ever used for medicinal purposes in the history of mankind and up to this date, it is being used in some regions of the world such as India. It has been written that around 600 B.C. Phoenicians were looking for a mysterious plant in Kashmir, one whose flower had silky stigmas with a pungent aroma.
The stigmas were believed to cure many illnesses and also had the capability of making strong dye. Europeans are believed to be among the first to use saffron as a spice in their cooking. Saffron is also used in many other industries such as the tobacco industry, alcohol industry, dairy industry, cosmetic industry for perfumes and facial creams, and the dye industry. Cleopatra used it to give her skin a golden color and romantic aroma. Saffron is also used in religious ceremonies. Tibetan Monks use saffron for prayer and blessing. Calligraphers have used saffron to write religious books such as the Koran.
The orange-red stigmas of the saffron plant produce a pleasant aroma and a warm golden orange color. The yellow stamens are also harvested, however, they do not have the same aromatic and color properties of the stigmas. Pure saffron consists of only the orange-red stigmas of the saffron plant. Saffron is also believed to have many medicinal properties. Called Kesar in the rest of India, saffron is used as a flavoring agent in many food preparations, from rice dishes, such as biryani, to various sweets.
Saffron should be stored in an airtight container and kept away from moisture and bright light. Bright light such as sunlight will bleach the color of saffron. That is why when the crocus flower blooms, the flower has to be picked at dawn (Sahar) before the sun shines on it. Also, do not expose your saffron to the moisture. Do not open your jar of saffron near a boiling pot of water in the kitchen