SAFFRON CULTIVATION

COMMERCIAL, MEDICINAL, OTHER BENEFITS

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Mar 17 - 23, 2008

Saffron has a long history of over 5000 years in Kashmir and India. It is supposed to have been introduced by Mongol invasion. A mention of Saffron is also found in the Chinese Materia Medica (1552-75). The word Saffron was derived from an Arabic word "Azferon," which means yellow. In ordinary parlance it is called Zaafran. Saffron has an amazing healing ability. It was cultivated by the Arabs in Spain about 961 and its mention has been made in the English leech book of 10th century but thereafter it seems to have disappeared from the Western Europe till the time it was re-introduced by the crusaders. According to Hakluyt, it was specially cultivated near Histon in Cambridgeshire and Essex at Saffron Walden, its cultivators being called Croakers.

USES

Saffron has been used as a spice and as a colouring agent for many centuries. It has also got numerous medicinal properties. It is one of the oldest herb ever used for medicinal purposes in the history of mankind to this date. The stigmas are believed to cure many ailments and it has also the capability of making strong dye to be used in textile. Saffron is used in cooking, in industries such as cosmetic industry, alcohols industry, dairy industry, cosmetics industry in perfumes and facial creams, dye industry, dairy industry etc. Egyptian Queen Cleopatra used it to give her skin a golden colour and romantic aroma. Saffron is also used in religious ceremonies. Tibetan monks use Saffron for prayer and blessing. Calligraphists have been using Saffron to write religious books such as Holy Quran. There is reference of Saffron in Srimad Bhagwatam where the queens of Lord Krishna and other ladies of Dwarka smeared their bodies with Saffron powder. Saffron was referred to in Solomon: 4:13-14 in the bible. In Rome it was used to be spread on the roof of the theatre as a perfume. A little after the death of Gotam Budh (Budha), water soluble Saffron dye became a recognized colour of the Budhists. Reference to the spice in the scriptures is indicative that Saffron was considered very auspicious. In the Mughal era Saffron was used in Mughal cuisines and cookeries. The Mughals loved the aroma of Saffron flavoured effects especially in pillaus and biryani. Historical record shows that thousands of bighas of land were reserved for cultivation of Saffron during Mughal rule in India.

PRODUCTION OF SAFFRON

The world's production of Saffron is estimated at 205 tons per year. Iran tops the world in the production of Saffron, producing around 80 percent of the total. The Valley of Kashmir region produces between 8 10 tons of high quality Saffron. Iran's yield of Saffron is almost four times that of Kashmir. The average value of Saffron is Rs.100,000 per kg.

SPECIAL PROPERTIES

Saffron's aroma is unique and there is no substitute for it. It is water soluble and when added to a dish, it gives a pure and homogenous colour. Although it is intensively fragrant, it is a bit bitter in taste. The intensive colour of Saffron is caused by the presence of pigments of carotenoid. Saffron has a hypnotic fragrance. It is used in different dishes in India and Pakistan, sweets, kheer, zarda, ras malai and hyderabadi biryani.

MEDICINAL AND THERAPEUTIC VALUE OF SAFFRON

Saffron has been used for more than 3000 years. It is the world's most expensive spice. In ancient times, Saffron was used to treat a wide range of ailments including stomach upsets, digestive orders, gout, bubonic plague and small pox. Clinically, trials have shown its potentials as an anti-cancer and anti-aging agent. Saffron's uses as a herbal medicines are legendary. Medieval Europeans used Saffron to treat cough and other respiratory infections and disorders, asthma, blood disorder, insomnia, paralysis, heart diseases, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period), baby colic and eye disorders. In ancient times Persians and Egyptians used Saffron as a general antidote against poisoning, digestive stimulant and a tonic for dysentery and measles. In Europe it is supposed to have curative properties against jaundice. Initial research suggests that Saffron has cancer suppressing properties. It is rich in vitamin B2 and is also an anti-oxidant. Its petals are used in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

CULTIVATION OF SAFFRON

Saffron has been the most important cash crop of Kashmir since ancient times. Saffron is cultivated from the West Mediterranean countries to India. Saffron is also grown in Italy, Greece, Austria, France, England, Turkey, Iran and South Asian including Azer Baijan cultivation areas. Iran is most productive and together with Spain it produces more than 80 percent of the world's production of Saffron, however, Kashmir enjoys particularly high reputation in the production of high quality Saffron. The Valley of Kashmir is famous for the Saffron fields and some Saffron is also grown in the Kishtwar region of Jammu.

It is hardy to cold temperature and is not affected by frost. It bears leaves from October to May and is in flower in October. Flowers have both male and female organs and are pollinated by bees and butterflies.

The plant prefers light (sandy) and medium soils (loamy but free from clay). It requires well drained soil and can be grown in nutritionally poor soil, preferably acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils. It can grow under small shade or no shade. It requires dry or moist soil.

According to some reports, Saffron is a sterile triploid. It is mostly propagated by vegetative way, however, if seed is obtained, it is best sown in the spring in a cold frame or home garden. Germination can take 1 6 months at 18 degree centigrade.

Two to three bulbs per cm in a pot are recommended to be transplanted. The Saffron is bulbous and perennial and its bulb is like that of garlic in shape. It grows to a height of 15-25 cm and has an underground globular corn. It takes 3 years for plants to bear flower from the stage of sowing seed. The flowers are blue or lavender in colour and scented. The bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. The cultivar with high quality corms yields about 27 kgs of rich orange stigma per hectare. It requires about 100,000 blooms to process one kg Saffron. Saffron is made from the dried stigmas of the Saffron flowers. It is the highest priced species in the world. Recently the rate of Saffron in the international market was Rs.100,000 per kg.

Saffron is the slender, dry, reddish brown flattened stigma of small Crocus of the Iris family. Saffron, like most of the European spices, derives its name from Arabic Za'fron which means yellow.

Saffron grows well in cooler climates. That's why numerous attempts have been made to introduce Saffron production in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and England since 15th century.

In Pakistan Saffron is being cultivated in Quetta and a small area of Soon valley in Punjab, which have suitable climatic and ecological conditions for cultivation and production of Saffron. According to a Progress Report 2003-04 compiled by Dr. Muhammad Aslam, Project Director/Commissioner Minor Crops Islamabad, the possibility of growing Saffron in Islamabad was explored. The bulbs of Saffron for the purpose were procured from Agriculture Farm, Mastung and Japan. The bulbs obtained were of different sizes. They were planted in the month of September on ridges maintaining a distance of 15 cm from bulb to bulb. It was observed that 40 percent of the plants emerging from the bulbs did not flower for want of proper size of the bulbs. To get the flowers, proper size of bulbs is very important. The stigmas were collected from the flowers. Furthermore, it was observed that proper drainage is equally essential, particularly during the monsoon rains otherwise bulbs rotten and go waste. From the experimentation it is concluded that if proper measures are adopted and other cultural practices needed for the purpose are followed, Saffron can be grown successfully in Islamabad region and other areas of Pakistan. Project Director, Minor Crops and other Agriculture scientists involved in the experimentation of Saffron cultivation must pass on the requisite information to the Extension Service officials of the areas so that they could create an awareness amongst the interested farmers for cultivation of this valuable herb for their socio-economic uplift and for poverty alleviation in the rural areas where Saffron can be cultivated.