One of my favorite foods is paella. Each summer, my family goes to our favorite restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking Pike Place Market in Seattle, and we order up a round of paella for everyone. We spend the afternoon taking in the summertime colors of the market and feasting on the delicious, beautiful dish. Part of what makes paella such a unique food is the addition of saffron. This special spice imparts the distinct yellow coloration and earthy flavor in foods like paella, risotto, curries, and more. But did you know that saffron benefits extend beyond culinary uses, and that saffron can actually benefit your health as well?
What is saffron?
Saffron is a spice used in cooking. Resembling thin, red threads, it is harvested from a plant called Crocus sativus, of the iris family. If you have ever bought saffron for a recipe, you know that it isn’t cheap; this is because it is harvested by hand, and takes about 150 flowers to produce just one gram of saffron threads.
6 saffron benefits
Saffron contains more than 150 compounds, many of which have medicinal properties like carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin, and more). Laboratory studies have shown that saffron acts as an antioxidant, fights inflammation, modulates the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, protects nerve cells, benefits artery health, and more.[1-3] Saffron benefits for your body range from treating depression to moisturizing your skin:
1. Treat depression. A systematic review of clinical studies showed that research supports the use of saffron for treating mild to moderate depression. Studies have found that saffron extract had similar efficacy to antidepressant medication and outperformed placebo. Most studies have found a dosage of 15 mg twice a day to be effective. To read more about how saffron treats depression, as well as to learn about another effective spice for depression relief, go here.
2. Protect against toxins. There have been several reports of saffron extract protecting many tissues in the body from both natural and chemical toxins, including the brain, heart, liver, kidney, and lung. Clinical trials are still needed to verify these results, but it is likely that saffron has many protective effects in the body.
3. Appetite control. Some research suggests that saffron may be used in weight management because it can help to lower appetite. One study found that mildly overweight women who consumed saffron extract (176.5 mg per day) snacked less frequently than those consuming placebo. The authors believe that saffron may help with weight loss by creating a satiating effect.
4. Improve memory. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may benefit from taking saffron as well. Clinical studies have found saffron and its active component crocin to have positive effects on cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, similar to medications like donepezil. Therefore, it could be a safe drug alternative to try.
5. Help PMS. Research is still in its infancy, but researchers have found that 30 mg of saffron per day can help to reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Read more about saffron and two other natural remedies for PMS here.
6. Soothe skin. Saffron has long been used to treat a variety of skin conditions. It is used in anti-itch creams, may protect against sun damage, and is known to have moisturizing effects on the skin as well.[5,8]
Some of the other potential saffron benefits for your health include treating infertility, erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and more.[4,5]
Most studies have used a dose of 30 mg saffron daily. It is considered safe to use at those low doses, and it usually presents little side effects. If you wish to use saffron as a dietary supplement, be prepared to pay a good price for it. Saffron is considered the most expensive spice in the world, so supplements won’t be cheap if they are of good quality.
You can also try using saffron in cooking from time to time in dishes like risotto, seafood stews, or paella. Experimenting with this unique and special spice will not only please your taste buds, but it may also improve your health, as well.