8 Benefits of Saffron for Stress, Sleep, Menstrual Comfort, & More

Published on August 18, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Saffron is best known as an exotic (and expensive) spice used in various traditional recipes, such as Paella and Golden Milk.

However, did you know the benefits of Saffron extend far beyond the culinary arts?

For example, research suggests phytochemicals in Saffron may support cognitive function, stress response and even help promote normal sexual function*.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the health benefits of Saffron, its historical and traditional uses as a spice and wellness elixir, and potential side effects and contraindications.

What Is Saffron?

Aptly nicknamed “the golden spice” or “red gold,” Saffron, also known as Crocus sativus L., is one of the world’s oldest, most exotic, and most expensive spices.REF#2679

Its hefty cost is due to the labor-intensive nature of hand-harvesting the bright red pistils or stigmas from the crocus flower, which blooms for 2-3 weeks in the fall. 

Each flower typically contains only three saffron pistils, which means it takes a lot of harvesting to get one pound of dried Saffron.

The earliest records of Saffron date back to 1600 to 1700 BC, where drawings of figures plucking Saffron were found on a fresco of the Minos Palace in Crete, Greece.

Ancient authors, such as Homer, Solomon, Pliny, and Virgil, also mention Saffron, which they considered to be a divine flower.

Saffron’s origins are unclear. Some believe it is native to the Middle East, while others think its roots are in Greece or Asia, where it was then brought to the Mediterranean and India.

Today, most of the world’s Saffron comes from Iran, Spain, France, Morocco, Italy, and India.REF#2680

It is used primarily as a culinary spice and also in herbal supplements (Saffron extract) and cosmetics.

Traditional Uses Of Saffron

Although most people relate Saffron to famous dishes, like Paella, it has been traditionally used for various purposes, including:REF#2681

  • An aphrodisiac
  • Natural dye for textiles and skin
  • Perfume
  • For eye health
  • Culinary spice
  • In beauty and cosmetics
  • To promote liver function
  • For gastrointestinal support
  • For low back pain
  • For mood support
  • In skincare (Cleopatra is said to have used Saffron milk baths as a natural beauty aid.)
  • Sun protection

In traditional herbalism, Saffron is considered a nootropic—a type of natural substance that supports cognitive function, and a nervine—a type of herb that supports normal nervous system function.

In the next sections, we’ll explore some of the science behind the traditional uses of Saffron for cognitive function, mind-body support, relaxation, and more.

8 Benefits of Saffron

Saffron’s rich and diverse history of traditional use has made it the subject of several scientific studies.

For example, research has revealed dozens of plant compounds in Saffron, which may be responsible for its possible benefits.

The main active compounds include:

  • Apocarotenoids 
  • Crocetin
  • Crocin
  • Safranal
  • Picrocrocin

Research has shown these, and other active plant compounds, may provide benefits for:

  • Cell function
  • Cognitive function
  • Emotional well-being

Next, we’ll take a closer look at the studies behind Saffron and how it may benefit your health.

1. Saffron May Support Cognitive Function

One of Saffron’s claims to fame in traditional herbalism is its use as a nootropic (a type of natural substance that supports cognitive function).

Initially, this use was based on years of traditional use and anecdotal evidence. 

However, there is now research to support its use as a nootropic.

Recent findings from animal and human studies suggest Saffron and its main plant compound, crocin, may support cognitive dysfunction by helping mediate the effects of stress and providing antioxidant support.REF#2682

Other studies suggest Saffron’s naturally-occurring antioxidants may have a neuroprotective effect, which may benefit the nervous system and the brain.REF#2683

Additional research, which we’ll cover in the following sections, suggests other cognitive-support properties related to emotional well-being and stress response.

Although more research is needed to understand precisely how Saffron may benefit cognitive function, emerging evidence and traditional use suggest a potential benefit.

2. Saffron May Help You Sleep

Saffron has long been prized in traditional herbalism for its relaxation-inducing effects, which are purported to help support sleep.

Several studies on Saffron extract supplements, including double-blind and randomized trials, have revealed a similar result, suggesting Saffron may help improve various aspects of sleep quality with no adverse events reported.REF#2684 REF#2685 REF#2686

However, more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions about efficacy and long-term safety.

3. Saffron May Provide Menstrual Comfort

In Western herbalism, herbs like Chastree/Vitex and Blue and Black Cohosh are commonly used for menstrual comfort*.

However, in the East, Saffron has been used to support reproductive function and to ease menstrual discomforts in women for centuries*.

Studies, including a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, on Saffron’s effects on menstruation suggest a potential benefit for various physical, mental, and emotional premenstrual symptoms.REF#2687 REF#2688

Although more studies are needed to explain its possible benefits, researchers hypothesize it could be due to Saffron’s supportive effects on inflammatory response, nervous system function, cognitive function, and its muscle-relaxant properties.

4. Saffron May Provide Benefits For Metabolic Function

Metabolism involves several organs and systems, such as the thyroid, pancreas, endocrine, and digestive systems, and is essential for utilizing energy, blood sugar support, and many other aspects of well-being.

Many dietary and lifestyle factors can impact metabolism. 

Research has also shown that certain herbs like Saffron may provide metabolic support.

For example, emerging research suggests Saffron extract may support normal modulation of glucose levels, normal inflammatory response, and normal appetite.REF#2689 REF#2690

More research is needed to understand how Saffron may benefit metabolic function.

5. Saffron May Support Nervous System Function

The nervous system originates in the brain and branches out throughout the body to affect and control almost everything we do.REF#2691

From movement and digestion to breathing, heartbeat, sexual development, memory, and more, the nervous system is essential to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The nervous system sends messages from the brain via different types of neurons that tell your body how to function.

What does all of this have to do with Saffron?

As you can likely see, normal nervous system function is critical to staying alive and healthy. 

However, several things, including stress, injury, and environmental factors, can negatively impact the nervous system leading to various imbalances.

In cases like this, traditional herbalists have turned to nootropic and nervine herbs, like Saffron and others, to support and nourish the nervous system*.

As we touched on in previous points, a growing body of research suggests Saffron supports various aspects of nervous system function via its antioxidant, cognitive support, inflammatory response support, and relaxation-inducing effects.REF#2692

Although more research is needed, emerging evidence suggests Saffron’s traditional use as a nervine herb may be valid.

6. Saffron Can Take Recipes to A Whole New Level

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Saffron’s incredible benefits to the culinary arts.

This precious spice may be expensive, but a little goes a long way in imparting its earthy, floral, musky, sweet, slightly bitter flavor and gorgeous golden color to sweet and savory dishes.

Saffron is traditionally used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian dishes, but it can be added to various soups, grains, marinades, dressings, and even desserts.

The keys to using Saffron effectively are to err on the side of using less (just a few threads will do) and make sure it doesn’t burn.

To prevent scorching your Saffron, consider adding it to liquid, such as broth or milk, before adding it to your dishes.

Saffron is also delicious when added to Golden Milk, a traditional Ayurvedic wellness beverage, or made into Saffron tea.

When choosing culinary Saffron, be sure you’re getting the real deal!

Always buy from a reputable spice distributor and check the country of origin. The majority of the world’s Saffron comes from Iran and Spain.

Saffron threads should be bright red and aromatic.

It should also cost more than other spices! A small container of saffron threads, about a tablespoon, may retail for anywhere from $7.00 to $20.00 or more.

Finally, take care when cooking with Saffron, as its naturally intense golden color can easily stain clothing and some types of countertops.

7. Saffron May Support Normal Sexual Function In All Sexes

Saffron has always been considered an exotic and romantic spice. 

Perhaps this is why it has been traditionally used as an aphrodisiac throughout the Middle East and Europe*. 

Studies supporting its use as an aphrodisiac are limited. However, some research has shown Saffron’s active plant compounds, crocin, and safranal, may support normal sexual function.REF#2693

A review of several studies examining Saffron’s potential effect on sexual function in men and women concluded it appeared to be effective but that more research was needed.REF#2694

8. Saffron May Benefit The Eyes

As previously mentioned, one of Saffron’s cross-cultural traditional uses was to support the eye and vision.

Although research on this is in its infancy, animal and human studies suggested a possible benefit of Saffron extract for supporting inflammatory response, macular function, and overall visual function.REF#2695 REF#2696 REF#2697

Researchers believe Saffron’s eye-supportive mechanisms come from its potential effects on neurological inflammatory response and retinal function.

More research is needed to make a recommendation.

Side Effects & Contraindications of Saffron Supplements

Saffron has been enjoyed as a culinary spice, beauty aid, and wellness elixir for centuries and is considered safe in normal doses.

Acute toxicity tests show that saffron, safranal, and crocin are low or nontoxic agents. REF#2698

Therefore, safety concerns regarding Saffron are rare and typically related to taking high doses, which can be toxic.

Taking up to 1.5 grams of Saffron daily is generally considered safe, but exceeding 5 grams a day could be harmful.REF#2699 Standard doses used in clinical trials typically range from 30mg - 50 mg per day.

Taking slightly too much Saffron may cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

More severe toxicity may cause numbness, tingling in the hands and feet, and yellowish skin and eyes due to the precipitation of yellow pigments on the skin and the conjunctiva. 

Spontaneous bleeding can also be a symptom of excess consumption.

Start Experiencing The Benefits of Saffron Today!

Saffron is a beautiful spice to add to your wellness routine because it can be used in so many ways.

For example:

  • Cooking
  • Make Saffron tea or add a couple of threads to Golden Milk
  • Take a high-quality Saffron extract supplement
  • Add Saffron to DIY beauty care products and herbal baths

Keep in mind, however, that not all Saffron is created equal.

Due to its hefty cost, many Saffron products do not contain any real Saffron. 

To avoid buying a fake, adulterated, or inferior product, look for Saffron supplements tested for identity and purity.

When buying Saffron as a spice, buy from a reputable vendor and read the label carefully to ensure you’re buying authentic Saffron.

As previously mentioned, genuine Saffron should have a very aromatic flavor and be bright red.


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