LEGENDS
AND TRUE SAFFRON STORIES

 

Let’s start from the beginning. 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 heartbreaking 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 with his blood a plant, the Crocus. Later on, Virginio 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 shoots to the most exquisite fruits of saffron.

From legend to true history. Historiography is vague about the origin of the bulb. There is talk of Anatolia and Asia Minor, probably the area of present-day Khorasan, in northwestern Iran. This is where 90% of the world’s saffron production comes from.

The ancient Egyptians attached 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 Persian were probably the first to use saffron as a spice. Later the Arabs and the Romans spread it around the world through caravan routes of “Silk Road” to the east and trade routes of “Mare Nostrum” to the West. The Romans abundantly used it during religious ceremonies and added it to their famous banquets. The matrons of Rome, on the other hand, used it as a powerful aphrodisiac transforming it into perfume. Over the years saffron gained an increasingly first-class place in 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”.