The main ingredients of saffron

The stigmas of Crocus sativus contain the primary pigment crocin, as well as anthocyanin, alpha- and beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin pigments, and the vitamins riboflavin and thiamine. The major carotenoid derivatives found in saffron are crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal. The characteristic taste of the spice is attributed to the glycoside picrocrocin, while safranal is considered the main odiferous constituent, achieved through hydrolysis of picrocrocin.

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Crocin is a mixture of glycosides: crocetin, a dicarboxylic terpene lipid, and alpha-crocin, a digentiobiose ester of crocetin. Cis- and trans-crocetin dimethyl esters have also been identified. Similar compounds have been isolated from other members of the Iridaceae family. Gardenidin, a compound obtained from gardenias, is identical to crocetin.

The essential oil derived from saffron is a complex mixture of more than 30 components, mainly terpenes, and their derivatives.


Recent research has examined saffron’s antidepressant properties. Though there are limited human studies on the subject of saffron and depression, they are of high quality. The studies include trials against placebo and trials against reference drugs, such as the SSRI fluoxetine. These studies show that saffron, at the recommended dose, has antidepressant properties comparable to the reference drugs. These studies were conducted in Iran, which produces 90% of the world’s saffron. While this should not discredit the results of the studies, replication from other researchers would go a long way toward solidifying saffron’s effects.

Saffron’s antidepressant properties are related to serotonin metabolism. Saffron’s side effects, like reduced snacking and an elevated mood, could be the result of increased serotonin action in the body. Further research is needed to determine the exact functioning of this mechanism.

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History of the therapeutic use of saffron

from time immemorial it has also been considered a medicinal plant because it possesses therapeutic properties, as illustrated in paintings found on the island of Santorini, dated 1627 BC. It is included in Catalogues of Medicinal Plants and in the European Pharmacopoeias, being part of a great number of compounded formulas from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The medicinal and pharmaceutical uses of this plant largely disappeared with the advent of synthetic chemistry-produced drugs. However, in recent years there has been growing interest in demonstrating saffron’s already known bioactivity, which is attributed to the main components—crocetin and its glycosidic esters, called crocins, and safranal—and to the synergy between the compounds present in the spice.

we know about the therapeutic properties of saffron, including activity on the nervous and cardiovascular systems, in the liver, its antidepressant, anxiolytic and antineoplastic properties, as well as its potential use as a functional food or nutraceutical.

Saffron Possibly Effective for:

Alzheimer’s disease: Taking a specific saffron extract by mouth for up to 22 weeks seems to improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Saffron might work about as well as the prescription drug donepezil (Aricept).

Depression: Research shows that taking saffron or saffron extract by mouth for 6-12 weeks improves symptoms of major depression. Some studies show that saffron might be as effective as taking a prescription antidepressant, such as fluoxetine, imipramine, or citalopram. Early research in patients already taking an antidepressant shows that taking crocin, a chemical found in saffron, for 4 weeks reduces symptoms of depression more than taking the antidepressant alone.

Menstrual discomfort: Some research shows the taking a specific product containing saffron, anise, and celery seed reduce pain during the menstrual cycle.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): Some research shows that taking a specific saffron extract improves symptoms of PMS after two menstrual cycles.