Saffron Cultivation In India: Facts & Healing Benefits
Since time immortal, India has been known as a land of spices. The profusion of spices found here has allured visitors across lands and waters, being the prime contributor to the trade and commerce of the country. One such indigenous spice is “saffron” which takes on many names such as Zafran, Kesar, Kang, Kang Posh etc. Kang Posh is the flower of Kesar that allegorizes freshness and purity. In the valley of flowers and the heaven of earth- Kashmir, blooms a special flower of Kesar that has its own appellation and utility.
India Ranks At 3rd Position In Saffron Production:
India ranks third as the largest producer behind Iran (accounts for 90% of total saffron production) and Spain.
What is Saffron “Kesar”:
Saffron/kesar is the dried stigmas (top part in the center of a flower that receives the pollen) of the flower Crocus Sativus Linnaeus. It belongs to the Iradaceae family.
Here Are 7 quick facts about this momentous spice “Saffron”:
1. Although the accreted usage of saffron dates back to just 3-4 centuries but its presence can be felt in ancient Greece where an anecdote from Greek mythology cites the story of its advent. A handsome mortal Crocus fell in love with a nymph; Smilax and was later snubbed and got bewitched by her into a flower crocus from which saffron is obtained. While Egyptian legends suggest its usage by Cleopatra and other pharaohs for aromatic and seductive essence. Romans had a great affinity for saffron and it is speculated that Roman king Nero got his hall and streets sprinkled with saffron upon his arrival to the city.
2. Geographically, Spain is believed to be the starting point for the start of cultivation of saffron but some historians claim its inception in Iran and they state saffron as the naturally growing flower in Iran. Spain used to be its largest cultivator till 1950s where plethora of land was put under cultivation, but with time farmers became reluctant in its production and indulged themselves in cotton production and Iran took on the position of the largest producer of saffron thereafter.
3. The introduction of saffron to India is credited to Chinese via Persians. Chinese medical experts cite Kashmir as the land of saffron where the flower was offered to Buddha around 3rd century while Indian legends suggest its arrival with the hands of two Sufi wanderers Khwaja Massod Wali and Sheikh Sharif-u-din Wali. They both sought a refuge in India at the time of their illness and they gave away crocus bulb as a present.
4. In India, around 5,707 hectares of land comes under saffron cultivation while majority of the produce is procured from the state of Jammu and Kashmir in which about 4,496 hectares of land comes under cultivation. In the Kashmir area, Pampore is famous worldwide for its high quality saffron and from the Jammu area, Kishtwar is highly regarded. Pampore produces around 2,128 kilograms of saffron per annum. (source: agropedia, IIT Kanpur)
5. It is normally planted in the month of August and harvested in October and November along with the assurance that atmosphere around is not very hot. In order to ensure this, flower plucking is done in the morning time from sunrise to 10 AM. The flowers are then dried for 5 days and kept in airy container.
6. Saffron is used in cuisines across India, Europe, Middle East, and Turkey. It is regarded as the metallic honey accounting for its yellowish-orange color and sweet taste. It is widely used in India for religious purposes and offerings to gods. While in the field of medicine, it is seen as a potential anti- depressant element.
7. Rs 372 Crore National Saffron Mission scheme was launched by the Government of India in partnership with the state government in 2010. The cost was to be shared by the state and central governments. The four-year scheme targeted at the economic revival of Jammu and Kashmir’s saffron sector and to increase the productivity from 3 kgs per hectare to 5 kgs. But the outcomes have not been very pleasant and farmers have blamed the use of chemicals for the decrement in production.
Healing Benefits of Saffron
The benefits and medicinal properties of this highly priced spice “saffron”, make it a valuable culinary ingredient worldwide. Modern research suggests that saffron can be used as an aphrodisiac, diaphoretic [to cause sweating], carminative [ to prevent gas] and to bring on mensuration. Some other benefits are mentioned hereunder:
- Protects against cancer: Saffron contains a dark orange, water soluble carotene called crocin, which is responsible for much of saffron’s golden color. Crocin has been found to trigger apoptosis [ programmed cell death] in a number of different types of human cancer cells, leukemia, ovarian carcinoma, colon adenocarcinoma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Researchers in Mexico who have been studying saffron extract have discovered that saffron and its active components display an ability to inhibit human malignant cells. Not only does the spice inhibit cells that have become cancerous, but it has no such effect on normal cells and actually stimulates their formation and that of lymphocytes [immune cells that help destroy cancer cells].
- Promotes learning and memory retention: Recent studies have also demonstrated that saffron extract, specifically its crocin, is useful in the treatment of age related mental impairment. In Japan, saffron is encapsulated and used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, memory loss and inflammation.
- In delayed puberty: In under developed girls, saffron has an overall stimulant effect. A pinch of saffron crushed in a table spoon of milk is useful to stimulate hormones and bring about desired effect.
- To increase vitality: In low libido saffron aids as a sexual stimulant and can be consumed in a dose of a pinch in a glass of milk at bed time.
- In patchy baldness: Saffron mixed in liquorice and milk makes an effective topical application to induce hair growth in alopecia.
- Protection against cold: Saffron is a stimulant tonic and very effective to treat cold and fever; saffron mixed in milk and applied over the forehead quickly relieves cold.
- Food Additives: Saffron is an excellent replacement for synthetic food additives- for eg: instead of FD and C yellow no 5: a synthetic food coloring agent that is a very common allergy trigger, Saffron’s glorious yellow could be an acceptable hypoallergenic choice (source: NDTV).