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Saffron (Crocus sativus)

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Also listed as: Crocus sativus
Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • African saffron, American saffron, beta-cyclocitral, beta-ionones, caffeic acid, cake saffron, carotenoids, chlorogenic acid, cinnamic acid, colchicinoids, Colchicum brachyphyllum, Cro s 2 profilin, crocetins, crocins, crocus, Crocus albiflorus, Crocus antalyensis, Crocus cancellatus, Crocus goulimyi, Crocus kotschyanus, Crocus napolitanus, Crocus pallasii subsp. haussknechtii, Crocus sativus, Crocus sativus lectin (CSL), Crocus sativus var. cartwrightianus, Crocus speciosus, Crocus vernus, Crocus vernus Hill, Crocus vernus ssp. vernus, crocusatins, ferulic acid, furanones, gallic acid, Greek saffron, hay saffron, Iranian saffron, Iridaceae (family), isophorone, Jordanian meadow saffron, Kashmiri saffron, linoleic acid, meadow saffron, monoterpenes, nonadecanol, phenolic acids, picrocrocein, picrocrocin, red Greek saffron, safflower tea, saffron crocus, saffron tea, safranal, tannic acid, vanillic acid, zaaferan, zafaran (Arabic), zang hong hua.
  • Note: Saffron (Crocus sativus) should not be confused with meadow saffron, also known as autumn crocus (Colchicumautumnale L.), which is a poisonous plant. Saffron grown in America or Africa has been referred to as American saffron and African saffron, respectively, which is a misnomer, as Carthamus tinctorius is the real American saffron and Lyperia crocea Ecklon is the real African saffron. Saffron should also not be confused with prairie crocus (Anemone patens).

Background
  • Saffron is the dried stigma of the crocus (Crocus sativus) flower. It is available both as filaments and powder. Around 75,000 blossoms are needed to make a single pound of saffron. For this reason, the price of saffron can range from $50 to $300 per ounce.
  • Saffron has a long history of use as a spice, medicine, and yellow dye. The crocus was reportedly used by ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and in medieval Egypt.
  • Saffron may have anticancer, antidepressant, nerve protective, and antioxidant properties and may have effects on the immune system. Saffron has also been studied for its ability to improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, asthma, infertility, menstrual problems, and psoriasis.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *


Saffron has been suggested as a possible treatment for depression. Crocus petal may also be able to improve symptoms in patients with mild-to-moderate depression. Additional research is needed in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.

B


Saffron extract may reduce symptoms of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease in patients who have stopped taking medication. Further research is required in this area.

C


In humans, a mixture of eight herbs (chamomile, saffron, anise, fennel, caraway, licorice, cardamom, and black seed) and saffron appears to reduce symptoms of allergic asthma. Further study is required in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.

C


In human study, an herbal combination containing saffron reduced the symptoms of painful menstruation. Further study is required in this area.

C


Based on preliminary study, dried saffron may be effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

C


While studies of the effect of saffron on exercise performance enhancement are lacking, crocetin (a chemical found in the crocus flower) taken daily by mouth may reduce physical fatigue in men but not women. Further study is required in this area.

C


Saffron extract may be effective in improving the shape and movement of sperm but not in increasing sperm number. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

C


Saffron may improve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Further study is needed in this area.

C


Saffron tea, in combination with a diet based on the readings of Edgar Cayce (a health practitioner of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries) has been shown to improve the symptoms of psoriasis. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

C
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Abortifacient (uterus contraction stimulant/abortion inducer), antibacterial, antioxidant, anxiety, appetite stimulant, bladder cancer, bladder disorders, blood circulation, breast cancer, bruising, cancer, circulation problems, cognitive disorders, colitis (inflammation of the large intestine), constipation, coronary artery disease, cough, diabetic complications, diarrhea, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), earaches, edema, emphysema, eye diseases (macular degeneration), gentamicin toxicity, gout, gum irritation, headaches, heart disease, hemorrhage, hepatitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hysteria, jaundice, joint pain, immune stimulant, inflammation, insomnia, ischemia-reperfusion injury prevention, kidney and bladder disorders, leukorrhea (vaginal discharge), liver disorders, lung cancer, lymphoma, measles, memory, morphine withdrawal, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, painful urination, Parkinson's disease, respiratory disease (lung disease), retinopathy (damage to retina of the eye), sedative, skin cancer, skin conditions, smallpox, thrush (yeast infection of the mouth), ulcer, vomiting, wound healing.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

  • For Alzheimer's disease, 15 milligrams of saffron extract has been used daily for four weeks, followed by 30 milligrams daily for 18 weeks.
  • For depression, 30 milligrams of saffron has been used daily for 6-8 weeks.
  • For erectile dysfunction, 200 milligrams of dried saffron has been used daily for 10 days.
  • For male infertility, 50 milligrams of saffron has been used three times weekly for three months.
  • For premenstrual syndrome, 15 milligrams of saffron has been used twice daily for two menstrual cycles.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for saffron in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid with known allergy or sensitivity to saffron or any of its constituents. Reactions to saffron are reported to be rare, compared to other spices.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Saffron may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Saffron may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
  • Saffron may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients with low blood pressure and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Drowsiness or sedation may occur. Use caution if driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Use with caution in individuals with low blood counts.
  • Avoid in patients with known allergy to saffron or any of its constituents.
  • Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding, due to a lack of sufficient data.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Saffron is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to a lack of available scientific evidence. Saffron may induce uterine contractions and abortion.

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • Saffron may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Saffron may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
  • Saffron may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs that lower blood pressure.
  • Saffron may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some drugs. Examples include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan®) or diazepam (Valium®), barbiturates such as phenobarbital, narcotics such as codeine, some antidepressants, and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery.
  • Saffron may also interact with Alzheimer's agents, antianxiety drugs, antiasthma drugs, anticancer drugs, antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory agents, antiseizure drugs, cardiovascular agents, cholesterol-lowering drugs, cisplatin, cough medications, cyclophosphamide, drugs that may affect the nervous system, drugs that may damage the kidney, drugs that may damage the liver, fertility agents, gastrointestinal agents, gemcitabine, hypnotic agents, immune suppressants, impotence agents, mitomycin C, noradrenaline, opiates, painkillers, pentylenetetrazol, scopolamine, and urethane.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Saffron may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
  • Saffron may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
  • Saffron may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking herbs or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Saffron may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some herbs or supplements.
  • Saffron may also interact with Alzheimer's agents, antianxiety herbs and supplements, antiasthma herbs and supplements, anticancer herbs and supplements, anticough herbs and supplements, antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory agents, antioxidants, antiseizure herbs and supplements, cardiovascular herbs and supplements, cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements, fertility agents, gastrointestinal herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements that may affect the nervous system, herbs and supplements that may damage the kidney, herbs and supplements that may damage the liver, hypnotic agents, immune stimulants, immune suppressants, impotence agents, kainic acid, opiates, and painkillers.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. Agha-Hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, et al. Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG 2008;115(4):515-9.
  2. Akhondzadeh S, Shafiee Sabet M, Harirchian MH, et al. A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2010;207(4):637-43.
  3. Aytekin A, Acikgoz AO. Hormone and microorganism treatments in the cultivation of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) plants. Molecules 2008;13(5):1135-47.
  4. Carmona M, Zalacain A, Salinas MR, et al. A new approach to saffron aroma. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2007;47(2):145-59.
  5. Chryssanthi DG, Lamari FN, Iatrou G, et al. Inhibition of breast cancer cell proliferation by style constituents of different Crocus species. Anticancer Res 2007;27(1A):357-62.
  6. Hosseinzadeh H, Ghenaati J. Evaluation of the antitussive effect of stigma and petals of saffron (Crocus sativus) and its components, safranal and crocin in guinea pigs. Fitoterapia 2006;77(6):446-8.
  7. Kanakis CD, Tarantilis PA, Tajmir-Riahi HA, et al. Crocetin, dimethylcrocetin, and safranal bind human serum albumin: stability and antioxidative properties. J Agric Food Chem 2007;55(3):970-7.
  8. Lechtenberg M, Schepmann D, Niehues M, et al. Quality and functionality of saffron: quality control, species assortment and affinity of extract and isolated saffron compounds to NMDA and sigma1 (sigma-1) receptors. Planta Med 2008;74(7):764-72.
  9. Modaghegh MH, Shahabian M, Esmaeili HA, et al. Safety evaluation of saffron (Crocus sativus) tablets in healthy volunteers. Phytomedicine 2008;15(12):1032-7.
  10. Nahid, K., Fariborz, M., Ataolah, G., and Solokian, S. The effect of an Iranian herbal drug on primary dysmenorrhea: a clinical controlled trial. J Midwifery Womens Health 2009;54(5):401-404.
  11. Ordoudi SA, Befani CD, Nenadis N, et al. Further examination of antiradical properties of Crocus sativus stigmas extract rich in crocins. J Agric Food Chem 2009;57(8):3080-6.
  12. Sadeghnia HR, Cortez MA, Liu D, et al. Antiabsence effects of safranal in acute experimental seizure models: EEG and autoradiography. J Pharm Pharm Sci 2008;11(3):1-14.
  13. Sarris J. Herbal medicines in the treatment of psychiatric disorders: a systematic review. Phytother Res 2007;21(8):703-16.
  14. Schmidt M, Betti G, Hensel A. Saffron in phytotherapy: pharmacology and clinical uses. Wien Med Wochenschr 2007;157(13-14):315-9.
  15. Shamsa A, Hosseinzadeh H, Molaei M, et al. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine 2009;16(8):690-3.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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