Revered as a miracle spice for its myriad benefits, the exotic golden hue, aroma, and earthy smell of saffron makes it a sought-after herb and spice. The reddish-orange strands are used in several traditional medicinal and culinary rituals and practices in India, Persia, and Greece. Ayurvedic records and modern scientific research have highlighted the product's ability to deal with skin problems, blood purification, and enhance mental, menstrual, and reproductive health.
The world’s most expensive spice saffron is extracted from the stigma of the vibrant, beautiful, and delicate flower, crocus sativus. The process of its extraction is quite labor-intensive, costly, and time-consuming; therefore, saffron is rare and priced very high compared to other spices. Saffron contains antioxidants, vitamin A, B12, folic acid, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, etc. The spice has a wide range of cosmetic, medicinal, and therapeutic applications making it worth the price it demands. So, if you get your hands on some saffron, you better put it to good use.
Popularly known as Kesar or kumkum, saffron has been used in traditional practices for centuries. Ayurveda recognizes saffron as Varnya and Kantida. The categories of herbs that give skin a healthy, even-toned, warm, and glowing appearance. Additionally, the Vrana feature of saffron offers disinfecting properties.
Multiple ayurvedic scripts narrate the benefits of saffron. It has been mentioned extensively as a part of various ayurvedic preparations to address multiple concerns. Ayurveda recommends using Kesar to improve mood, get glowing skin, flush toxins, improve reproductive health and blood circulation, and enhance eye health. Traditional medicine records1 dating back to the 16th to 19th century, indicate the use of saffron in various pain relief preparations.
Saffron is recognized as tridoshic, meaning it can balance all the three doshas. The spice is believed to hold qualities that can balance aggravated or vitiated Vata, Pitta, and Kapha doshas. Being a tridoshic, saffron offers health benefits that keep seasonal ailments at bay and usually suits everyone.
Vata dosha: Vata is the air element. It governs thoughts, muscles, pain, and nerves. By balancing Vata dosha, saffron can help manage pain with its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. The Rasayana (anti aging quality or to get maximum yield out of the food to nourish all the body tissues optimally) properties of saffron help deal with premenstrual syndrome too. By balancing Vata, it can also help improve sleep quality and cope with depression. Furthermore, a balanced Vata can help reduce hair loss by reducing dryness.
Pitta dosha: Pitta can be understood as the fire element. Saffron, the fiery-colored spice with its Ushna (hot in potency), has a unique impact on imbalanced Pitta. The Pitta pacifying abilities of saffron can help restore poor vision. However, people with aggravated Pitta must use saffron in moderate amounts to avoid skin irritation and a burning sensation in the stomach.
Kapha dosha: Kapha is the earth element. Due to aggravated Kapha, Ama (toxins in the body) is created, which in turn triggers weight gain. Saffron, by balancing Kapha, can help in weight loss and reduce the formation and accumulation of Ama. Since saffron has Agni, a heating element or digestive fire, it can help improve metabolism and digestion in people with vitiated Kapha dosha.
Glow and radiance: Saffron is used extensively in various Ayurvedic preparations for getting a healthy, even-toned, warm, and glowing complexion. The Varnya and Kantida property of saffron makes it an excellent skin tonic.
A human study2 in 2013 highlighted that crocin, the active compound in saffron, can suppress tyrosinase, an enzyme that helps in melanin production. Apart from this, saffron can also help get rid of tanning3. Ayurveda recommends soaking saffron in half a cup of raw milk and applying it on the face for a natural glow. Similarly, applying a paste made with a few strands of saffron, 2 tbsp of sandalwood powder, and rose water can give a healthy complexion. Interestingly, crocin is also responsible for the color of saffron.
Protection from sun damage and premature skin aging: Saffron is a valuable ingredient in many cosmetic formulations and products. Rich in antioxidants, saffron can help protect the skin from UV radiation since the exposure promotes the production of free radicals, which causes oxidative stress. A 2018 lab study4 found that crocin, the active compound in saffron, has potent antioxidant properties that can reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals. Another study highlighted that saffron could protect the skin from premature aging by working against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays5.
Acne and other skin-related issues: Saffron has a variety of skin-friendly properties. Ayurveda mentions the Ropan (healing) and Rasayana (rejuvenating) properties of saffron that can help deal with acne and psoriasis. According to a study6, saffron's high anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it an excellent product for helping treat acne-prone skin and make it look clear. The healing property of saffron can also help reduce redness and inflammation in the skin caused by acne. Applying a mix of crushed saffron and tulsi leaves to the infected area can help reduce acne. Ayurveda also mentions that saffron can help reduce skin infections7 and wounds8.
Improve hair and scalp health: Saffron is used in multiple age-old remedies, giving hair a smooth, moisturized look with a healthy gloss. The phytochemicals and antioxidants9 in saffron are also helpful in repairing damaged hair follicles, dealing with hair fall and oily scalp, promoting healthy hair growth, and preventing hair loss. Ayurveda suggests that the ability of saffron to balance Vata improves hair growth by reducing excessive dryness.
Oil prepared by boiling 10 to 12 strands of saffron in 50ml of sesame oil can be applied to the roots of the hair to improve hair growth, repair damage, reduce split ends, and limits sebum secretion by sebaceous glands. Additionally, the ability of saffron to improve blood circulation can accelerate cell renewal, reduce hair breakage, and revive damaged hair.
Sexual, menstrual, and reproductive health: Along with its culinary and cosmetic properties, saffron is also used for its strong aphrodisiac properties. Crocin, an active component of saffron, gives it aphrodisiac properties too. Saffron might also be effective in helping deal with poor sperm count and cases of erectile dysfunction10.
Traditional practices highlighted mixing a pinch of saffron with milk to boost libido, treating infertility, and age-related sexual dysfunction in both males and females. Besides this, Ayurveda recommends saffron for women dealing with irregular menstrual cycles, painful periods, regulating hormones, etc. Studies11 indicate that saffron has antispasmodic properties that help in relieving pain during periods and ease the menstrual flow. It helps in regularizing periods, balances hormones, and reduces PMS symptoms. Ayurveda experts recommend consuming a glass of warm milk infused with saffron to maintain good sexual health and a regular menstruation cycle.
Read more: Saffron Milk Recipe
Mood regulation and Depression: A study12 highlighted that saffron could help improve mood by reducing neurotransmitters in the brain. Similarly, another study13 highlighted the ability of saffron to balance serotonin levels. It can help reduce depression, anxiety, and act as a natural antidepressant. Furthermore, since saffron has tridoshic properties, it reduces the risk of nervous system disorders. Ayurveda experts recommend consuming saffron tea infused with cinnamon and cardamom to help improve mood and deal with depression.
Eye health: Saffron may be used to manage various eye problems. It has shown great potential in helping reduce the damage of photoreceptor cells due to exposure to light14. Additionally, since saffron is a rich source of crocin and crocetin, it can help protect and restore retinal cells damaged due to oxidative stress in age-related macular degeneration15.
Purifying, nourishing, strengthening, brightening, and fragrant Saffron is loaded with many properties, making it one of the most versatile spices and ayurvedic ingredients. A royal rejuvenator, it is time that we add saffron to our skin and health care routine in addition to our curries and biryanis.
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