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Summary

Ayurveda:

Saffron gets mention even in the oldest Ayurvedic treatises like Charaka Samhita & Sushruta Samhita (approx. 500 B.C). It is an important ingredient of many medical recipes. Mentioned as Kumkum or Kesar it is also attributed several synonyms like Kashmiran, Bahleeka, Rudhira and Sankocha. Singh and Chunckar (1972) records its mentioned in Ayurvedic texts as below:

Saffron is as important ingredient of large number of Ayurvedic medicines. On account of its strong antipoisonous, aphrodisiac, cardiotonic, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, stimulant, lactogogue, livotonic, nervine tonic, sedative and styptic properties it is highly valued in Ayurveda. It is considered an ideal Tridoshhara and a drug of immense efficacy in disorders of children of unknown actiology. It is used in acne, apoplexy, arthritis, asthma, colic, cough dyspepsia, hemierania, insect bites and stings, liver disorders, mental disorders, neurasthenia, oedema, painful menstruation, phthisis, prolapse of anus, sore throat and splenic disorders. It is attributed with extraordinary properties for improving weak eyesight and highly valued as a complexion builder (Chopra et al., 1956: Kirukar & Basu, 1935).

As per Ayurvedic Nighantus saffron is Snigdha, Laghu in Guna, Tikta in Rasa, Katu in Vipaka, Ushna in Virya and Tridoshhara.

The properties of saffron are mentioned in sanskrit:

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Saffron is bitter, greasy and it cures head ailments and heals wounds. It is pungent, stops vomiting and gives brightness to the body as well as cures the three ailments.
Saffron is bitter, pungent and heaty. It stops phlegm and cures gastric problems. It heals wounds, eye and head ailments. It serves as an anti-venom. It also gives brightness to the body.

 

Details

Saffron’s chemistry expresses otherworldly complexity. It contains over 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds – a biochemical symphony that ensures its mystery will never fully be plumbed, at least insofar as it great medicinal power remains refractory to the reductionist gaze of modern pharmacology. What power might that be?

While recent mainstream coverage of saffron weight loss promoting properties (via appetite suppression) on the Dr. Oz show has caused quite a surge of renewed interest in this exotic spice, saffron has far more to offer than that. It may, in fact, hold promise for serious neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease...

A 22-week multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of saffron in the management of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease published in 2010, showed 15 mg twice a day was as effective as donepezil (Aricept) at 5 mg twice a day, with significantly less vomiting as a side effect. Another 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial also published in 2010, showed that 15 mg of saffron twice per day was both safe and effective in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

The petals of the Crocus sativus plant have also been shown nearly equipotent to Prozac (fluoxetine) as a treatment for depression.  According to a study published in the journal Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry in 2007, 15 mg of Crocus sativus petals were as effective as 10 mg of Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression, putting 25% of the participants into full remission. Another depression study published 2004 showed that saffron, at 30 mg a day, was as effective as the drug imipramine, at 100 mg a day, in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

Other experimentally confirmed, potential medicinal properties of Saffron are:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Asthenozoospermia (low sperm)
  • Cardiac Hypertrophy
  • Chemotherapy-Induced Liver Toxicity
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Diabetic Neuropathy
  • Dysmenorrhea (irregular menstrual cycles)
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Hypertension
  • Inflammation
  • Liver Cancer
  • Middle Cerebral Artery Occlusion
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Opiate Addiction/Withdrawal
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Psoriasis
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Wound Healing

Saffron has been shown to modulate at least 22 biological pathways through the following pharmacological actions:

  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticarcinogenic
  • Antidepressive
  • Antimutagenic
  • Antioxidant
  • Antiproliferative
  • Aphrodisiac
  • Apoptotic
  • Bronchodilator
  • Calcium Channel Blocker
  • Cardioprotective
  • Chemopreventive
  • Chremotherapeutic
  • Cyclooxygenase inhibitor
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonist
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Hypotensive
  • Neuroprotective
  • Prostaglandin Antagonists
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Inhibitor

A note of caution is due with saffron, as any plant with such a great many modes of action and high biological activity at exceedingly low quantities, should be used with caution. In very small amounts, an herb like saffron may nudge a system into balance, or in a direction that the user may experience as a positive shift -- for example, as occurs when saffron is used in a dish as a spice, or consumed as a tea.  However, in higher "pharmacological dosages," especially when mixed with over-the-counter and prescribed drugs, there is a risk of doing serious harm. Therefore please be careful, and consult a medical herbalist and/or physician whenever possible before using more than culinary doses of saffron.

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