Long time ago, going back to 1600 B.C. in a painting in Knossos’ palace in Crete we find girls collecting saffron flowers. At about the same period, records were found documenting its use for medical purposes. We find it in the Metamorphoses of Ovid where he tells the story of Croco’s heart-breaking love for the nymph Smilace. Unfortunately, so much love was envied by the Gods who turned Croco into a red-hearted flower. Greeks were succeeded by
Romans with God Mercury who, unintentionally, killed his friend Crocus and in order to make his memory immortal, colored the Crocus plant with his blood. Later on, Virgilio in his Georgiche, described the work of young bees sucking the nectar of reddish crocuses.
Last but not least the mention in the Old Testament where in the Song of Songs the groom praises his beloved by comparing its blossoms to the most exquisite fruits of saffron. Now, we will try to distinguish for you myth from historical facts.
Historiography is vague about the origin of the bulb. Regions of Anatolia and Asia Minor, probably the area of present-day Khorasan, in north-western Iran, are indicated as the region where the bulb is originated from. This is where 90% of the world’s saffron production comes from. The ancient Egyptians ascribed great importance to saffron and used it in religious rituals and for Pharaoh embalming. It was also used in cosmetics and in medical field as analgesic.
The Persians were most likely the first to use saffron as a spice, Arabs afterwards, and then came the Romans who spread it around the world through caravan routes of “Silk Road” to the East and trade routes of “Mare Nostrum” (Mediterranean Sea) to the West. The Romans abundantly used it during religious ceremonies and added it to delicacies during their famous banquets. The matrons of Rome, on the other hand, used it as a powerful aphrodisiac by transforming it into perfume. Over the years saffron gained an increasingly first-class place in the Roman Empire. In China, the mystical properties of spice were traced back from the orange color of Buddha’s tunic. Even today
monks perpetuate this symbolism by continuing to wear traditional yellow-orange tunic.
Relevant were pharmaceutical properties that were attributed to spice in the East.
In Spain saffron entered with Arabs in Andalusia during the Caliphate of Cordoba.
The term saffron comes from the Persian word Zarparan (zar = gold: paran = petals). The Arabs turned the P into an F by giving the world the word Zafaran.
Saffron has always been the symbol of royalty, mysticism and prosperity, and is nowadays known as “Red Gold”.