Saffron has been cultivated and consumed for more than 3,500 years. It’s used to add flavour and colour to food but can also be consumed as a tea, which is what we will focus on here. It’s expensive—it is often said to be the most expensive spice in the world—and it’s rarely praised for its health benefits, but this vivid red spice may be more beneficial than you thought.
Health Benefits of Saffron Tea
The following health benefits relate to saffron on the whole, but if you want to consume it in its pure form, a tea is as good of a method as anything else. Make sure you also read our section on fake saffron (see below) to ensure that what you’re getting really is what the label claims.
Many of the health benefits of saffron come from its volatile oils and carotenoids, which may support the body in a number of ways.
1. It May Help in the Fight Against Cancer
We have discussed the apparent cancer-fighting properties of everything from soursop tea, which proved interesting but worrying, and dandelion tea, which offered some very exciting research in the field of cancer research. Saffron is one natural substance that could prove useful in the fight against cancer.
There is a lot of data suggesting it could help in the treatment of many forms of cancers, as it displayed anti-mutagenic and free-radical scavenging effects. (1) More research needs to be conducted before conclusions can be made, but there is enough here to warrant additional tests.
2. It May Help with Digestive Distress
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence claiming that saffron can help reduce inflammation of the gut, helping with everything from irregularity to IBS and Crohn’s. There have also been some promising studies in this field, with one suggesting that its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects could help reduce inflammation in the gut, leading to improved digestive health. (2) This is true of many herbal teas, and it is something we have discussed with regards to digestive soothing teas like sage, as well as sideritis. It is also one of the reasons turmeric has received so much attention lately.
3. It Could Improve Brain Health
Saffron seems to have a very positive effect on the nervous system and may help with an array of neurological and even psychological disorders. Some of the compounds studied during the anti-cancer studies were also found to have very positive neurological effects. Such is the case with crocin, a compound that displayed antidepressant effects on mice; and safranal, which was able to reduce seizure duration in mice. (3)
This expensive spice has also reduced insomnia symptoms in mice, and some suggestion it may help trigger a deeper and higher quality sleep. However, all of these studies have been done in the lab on rodents, and there have been no definitive human studies showing the same results.
Other Health Benefits of Saffron Tea
Regular consumption of saffron tea, and saffron in general, may also improve liver health, heart health, and libido. Research backs up these claims, but it’s a little weak when compared to some of the benefits mentioned above. Still, it’s more reason to buy this spice for yourself and consume it on a regular basis.
Just make sure you keep the doses low. You don’t need to consume a lot to get many of the aforementioned benefits, which is good news for your bank account.
Nutrients in Saffron
Some claim saffron contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals and that these nutrients can lead to an array of health benefits. That’s partly true, but while there are lots of vitamins and minerals in saffron, you’d need to consume a lot of it to get any real benefits from them. And that would be a very expensive way to hit your RDAs.
Vitamin C is a good example of this: 100g of saffron contains more than your RDA of this important vitamin. To give you an idea of how much this would cost, a popular British supermarket is currently selling 0.4g jars for £2.10, which is £52.50 for 10g or £525 for 100g.
It would be much cheaper, and easier, to eat an orange. The only nutrient that will impact your RDAs in common doses is manganese. But while this mineral is important, it’s also abundant. In fact, if you drink a few cups of black tea a day, as many Brits do, then you’re already getting your RDA.
That doesn’t make saffron any less beneficial or worthwhile. It doesn’t negate all the benefits we discussed above or the literature that backs them up—it just renders a lot of nutritional claims nonsensical.
Where Does Saffron Come From?
Iran are the biggest producers of saffron, accounting for close to 95% of the world’s production. However, the Greeks are believed to have been the first ones to cultivate this spice, and Greek saffron still accounts for a very small share of the overall export market. They don’t export anywhere near the quantities exported by Iran, but Greek saffron, just like other Greek spices (see our guide to the bacteria-busting mastic) has its own unique flavour profile.
In the future, you may even see saffron tea in the Shelgo Tea range, so watch this space if you fancy trying some of this tea for yourself.
The counterfeit saffron market is huge, as you might expect for a spice that is so sought-after and sells for such large sums. Scammers are known to pass off cheap substitutes as saffron, with safflower being one of the most common. It looks similar, but it doesn’t smell or taste the same, so anyone with previous experience of this spice should be able to tell the difference.
Turmeric and paprika are also sold as ground saffron, which is why you should always buy saffron threads and never opt for the ground stuff. If you don’t know what to expect taste or aroma wise, just follow these tips for avoiding fake saffron:
- Never buy it ground.
- Always buy from a reputable supplier.
- If it’s suspiciously cheap, stay away.
- It should smell sweet, but not taste sweet.
Is it Worth it?
Let’s be honest, there are probably easier ways to get your fix of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, just as there are cheaper teas that can provide anti-cancer and neuroprotective effects. Saffron is expensive, it’s not to everyone’s taste, and while it does seem to be healthy and may provide an array of benefits, it’s probably not the healthiest substance on the planet and it’s okay to give it a miss and focus on sideritis, white tea, or another herbal tea instead.
However, if you really enjoy the taste, you have a good supplier, and you don’t mind the cost, keep on drinking it! The same goes for anyone who just wants to try something new.