Used in Ayurvedic Medicine to promote health and fight disease, saffron can do so much more than just flavour your rice!
The history of this decadent spice dates back to antiquity, across continents and cultures. Egyptian healers used saffron to treat the ill, and the wealthy used it in their food and cosmetics.
Found in ancient royal kingdoms saffron has the title of the worlds most expensive spice. And for good reason, because a single ounce costs upwards of $500!
Cleopatra obviously knew about the beauty enhancing powers of this wonder ingredient as it is believed that she took saffron-infused baths. The ancient Greeks and Romans scattered it in royal halls and courts for its perfume. And when emperors entered Rome saffron was spread along the streets.
It is also believed that the Sumerians used saffron in their remedies and magic potions some 4000 years ago. But perhaps the oldest findings of saffron were saffron-based pigments discovered in prehistoric paints found in 50,000-year-old caves in Mesopotamia.
Ancient Egyptian healers used saffron to treat the ill, and the wealthy used it in their food and cosmetics
So, what's all the fuss about? Why does saffron have such a royal reputation for healing and such a luxury price tag? There are a few very good reasons why..
It's extremely, labour-intensive harvest, low yield and powerful skin and health benefits make saffron a valuable commodity. The delicate saffron flower must be harvested by hand, and a whopping 50,000 - 75,000 flowers are required to make just 1lb of dried saffron!
The saffron flower (botanical name crocus stavitus) has three tiny, threadlike stigmas in the centre. This is the important, female part of the flower that holds all the power. Chemical analysis has shown the presence of more than 150 components in the tiny saffron stigmas.
THE MEDICINAL PROPERTIES
Saffron packs a powerful punch when it comes to our health and skin. It is a rich source of magnesium, potassium, carotenoids, and vitamins A, B & C. Along with flavonoid compounds like kaempferol and quercetin, this makes saffron a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer ingredient.
Saffron is recognised as an adaptogen in Ayurvedic medicine, which means it helps our bodies resist the damaging effects of stress. Making it an ideal naturopathic medicine to promote health and fight disease. Clinical trials revealed that saffron significantly reduced depression symptoms in adults. Although long-term follow-ups are needed regarding its efficacy and safety for treating major depressive disorder (MDD)
"Epidemiologic data suggest that a diet high in fruits and veg, and therefore, theoretically, phytochemicals can reduce the risk of cancer." Andrea S. Blevins Primeau, PhD, MBA writes in the Cancer Therapy Advisor
Saffron is a much-studied plant extract, with over 16,000 clinical studies carried out on its chemopreventive activities alone.
Studies published in The Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism found that two of the carotenoids in saffron - crocin and crocetin have selective toxicity against cancer cells. Crocin, which gives saffron its wonderful colour, is the anti-cancer agent, while crocetin inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
Carotenoids are phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in the cells of a variety of plants, fruit and algae. They serve two roles in plants; they absorb light energy for use in photosynthesis, and they protect chlorophyll from photodamage (sun damage).
Studies have shown that in the human body they can act the same way, thus working as an anti-solar agent protecting our skin from UV rays. Now, I don't advise replacing your SPF with saffron, but I defiantly think that adding it to your skincare regime is a good idea!
5 SKIN HEALTH BENEFITS OF SAFFRON
Ayurvedic practices have taken full advantage of the role that phytonutrients play in skin health. Indian women have mixed saffron with other natural ingredients like milk, honey, sandalwood and rose water to beautify their skin for millennia.
Studies have shown that saffron extract, when used topically has moisturising benefits for the skin. It contains magnesium, an essential mineral for skin health that plays a major role in the skin barrier function, which protects the skin from moisture loss. Another mineral found in saffron is potassium which keeps skin moisturized and hydrated from the inside by regulating the water in the body's skin cells.
2. Acne-Prone Skin
Saffron is a great addition to any skin types beauty regime, especially those who suffer from acne-prone skin. Antibacterial properties can help purify acne breakouts and its skin-lightening abilities can fade old acne scars. Magnesium has long since been linked to stress levels and can reduce acne by lowering cortisol levels and stabilizing hormonal imbalances.
3. Skin Lightening
Saffron has been evaluated for its use in sunscreen due to its ability to work as an anti-solar agent. It can also lighten the skin by reducing the pigment (melanin) within skin cells. This helps to even out the skin tone by reducing dark pigmentation marks, acne scars and sunspots.
We've already established how helpful phytonutrients are in protecting the skin from exposure to sunlight, the number one skin ager. But, they also exhibit antioxidant effects that protect and prevent other free radical damage that age the skin, like environmental pollution, inflammation and smoking.
Minerals like magnesium and potassium are essential in the fight against ageing skin too, as a deficiency in both of these minerals can lead to dehydration and loss of skin elasticity.
"Carotenoids, along with active Vitamin A help to prevent premature skin damage and skin cancer. Diets high in carotenoids are beneficial for preventing UV light damage, which can lead to melanoma, wrinkles, drying, scaling, aged-looking skin and follicular thickening of the skin". Dr Josh Axe
Saffron has natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that aid sensitive skin types prone to eczema related rashes and skin irritations. Combine saffron with honey or oats to help soothe and moisturize dry, cracked skin.