Introduction to Iranian Saffron (Crocus sativus)
Author : Hamed Biglari | 2023 Jul 19

Introduction To Iranian Saffron (Crocus Sativus)

Saffron, with the scientific name Crocus sativus, is a plant from the Iridaceae family and saffron genus, which has many miraculous medicinal properties and is generally used for coloring and flavoring foods and beverages naturally.

Appearance characteristics of Saffron

Saffron is a small perennial plant with a 10 to 30 cm height. Several narrow and long leaves come out from the bulb's middle or the stem's base. A flowery stem emerges from the middle of the leaves, leading to one to three flowers in the middle of autumn. The flowers have six purple petals, which may be pink or purple in some varieties. The flowers have three stamens and a pistil leading to a three-branched stigma (In some cases, due to the rich soil, it reaches six numbers) with a red to orange color. The used part of this plant is the end of the cream and stigma of three branches, known as Saffron (Saffron stigma), and has an aromatic smell with a slightly bitter taste. A brilliant solar yellow color is produced when these strands soak into the water.

Saffron cultivation zones in Iran

Saffron cultivation in Iran, especially in the cities of Zawah, Torbat Heydarieh, Taybad, Bakhrez, Gonabad, Neishabur, and Bejestan in Razavi Khorasan province, and the cities of Qaenat, Ferdous, Sarayan, and Birjand in South Khorasan province, and recently in Fars, Kerman, Kermanshah, Tabriz and Lorestan provinces. It is popular in Qazvin and Ardabil (Almut). For farmers in Khorasan, Saffron (red Gold) is the primary source of income. This plant only needs water twice yearly - the first of November (before the harvest) and the beginning of December (at the harvest's end)- until spring, rain, and snow are enough. Planting, keeping, and harvesting create many job opportunities; its transportation is not expensive, and it can earn currency. More than a hundred thousand families make a living from this product in the mentioned areas, from the statistics published not very accurately about Saffron and saffron growers in Iran. Out of about 430 tons of Saffron produced annually worldwide in 2019 (more than of %90 of worldwide saffron), more than 325 tons belong to the Khorasan Razavi province (share of 75.5% of the production of this product), Khorasan has first saffron producer in the Iran country.

History of Planting Saffron in Iran

The history of planting Saffron in Iran (especially Qaenat saffron) dates back more than 3000 years ago. This colorful and precious plant of many years is known as red gold or desert gold because it grows in desert soil. 11,000 to 17,000 saffron flowers are needed to obtain one kilogram of dry Saffron. Also, a worker must work 40 hours to pick 150,000 flowers. Due to its excellent mediclinical componnets, taste, color, and aroma, Saffron has many applications in the production of food, pharmaceutical, and chemical products, and due to the limitations of cultivation and production, it is considered one of the most expensive products. Iran has first place in this field, with an average production of 90 to 93 percent of the total world production of Saffron (between 400 and 500 tons per year).

While exporting Saffron to many parts of the ancient world, the Iranians introduced its properties to the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Semitic peoples, including the Arabs. They taught its cultivation method to the Islamic nations around the Mediterranean in the first to fourth centuries of Hijri. Therefore, at first, Iranians exiled by Muawiya grew and utilized Saffron in Sham, and then, saffron planting became popular in North Africa, Andalusia (Islamic Spain), and Sicily (Sicily). The historical documents of the history of Saffron show the fact that since ancient times, Iranians have been very interested in Gold and Saffron, so in celebrations, merriments, revelries, and festivities, such as weddings and holidays, or welcoming elders and pilgrims, usually offered the Gold, jewelry, and Saffron to the pilgrims. They did. In the more magnificent establishment of such ceremonies, besides adorning and wearing mirrors, Gold and silver coins, Saffron, and flowers were threw on the heads of the bride and groom or the desired characters, and sometimes all present in such ceremonies. In some ceremonies, Saffron was smoked alone or with musk, amber, and oud and sprinkled with rose water. In the Achaemenid era, Saffron was used to decorate bread crumbs and flavoring own food. Persian Saffron had been introduced to Greece, Rome, and China during the Parthian period, and became one of the enthusiastic customers of Persian Saffron. In the Sassanid era, saffron planting became common in Qom province ( a province located in the central area of Iran ), and the quality of their products became famous. At the same time, Saffron was used to prepare expensive gilding paper for historical and religious writings. However, before that, the saffron solution was used as writing ink and has produced high-quality writing inks for centuries.


Hamed Biglari

Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Engineering in Gonabad University of Medical Sciences, Razavi Khorasan, Iran

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