Saffron - Crocus Sativus
The most desired and highly valued of all the spices, literally over the centuries, worth its weight in gold. There are only 6 mg of spice per flower. Its production is tedious, requiring 75,000 flowers be hand picked and processed to produce only one pound of spice.
The legendary herbalist John Gerard is quoted as saying: "For those at death's door and almost past breathing, saffron bringeth breath again." Favored for the heart, hysteric PMS, digestion, cleansing the lungs, as a sexual stimulant and to calm pain. Used to rejuvenate the skin. Current studies focus upon saffron's bioactive phytonutrient, crocetin and its ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Crocetin also increases oxygen in the blood. Used generously in Spanish European cooking. The most expensive spice by far - The stigma portion of the blossom must be separated from 165 hand picked blossoms to produce a single gram of the spice. A superior source of enzymatic pigments used as dyes.
Saffron has been a favorite of ancient Egyptian royalty, European nobility, and Ayuruedic and Chinese physicians. Saffron is now a favorite of chefs and is used liberally in European Spanish cuisine.
The blood oxygenating factor crocetin in saffron has given it a reputation as "elegantly exhilarating" and as an aphrodisiac. Herbalist John Gerard noted "For those at death's door and almost past breathing, saffron bringeth breath again."
Herbalists over the past 200 years have noted its value for bringing laughter and reducing menstrual depression, a supporter of the kidneys and liver, strengthening the heart and digestion and for cholera and for clearing the lungs.
Modern research lead by an article in the British medical journal Lancet, credits saffron's crocetin as a cholesterol reducer and as a protector against human heart disease in certain Spanish populations who consume dietary saffron regularly. Not surprisingly, Chinese research indicates it is valuable for reducing blood pressure. Saffron is regarded as entirely safe at dietary levels. (Consumption of larger medicinal amounts should be avoided during pregnancy. Serious circulatory conditions should only be treated under the supervision of a health professional.)
Crocetin, yellow-orange enzymatic pigments
Each flower contains only three stigmas. These threads must be picked from each flower by hand, and more than 75,000 of these flowers are needed to produce just one pound of Saffron filaments, making it the world's most precious spice. But, because of saffron's strong coloring power and intense flavor, it can be used sparingly. Crocus Sativus Linneaus contains crocin, the source of its strong coloring property, bitter-crocin, which offers the distinctive aroma and taste and essential oils which are responsible for its therapeutic properties.