What Are the Health Benefits and Side Effects of Saffron?

Medically Reviewed on 6/15/2022

What is saffron?

Saffron is a very popular spice widely used in several cuisines because of its strong and distinct flavor and unique color and fragrance. The health benefits of saffron include improved libido, nervous system function, and antioxidant status.
Saffron is a very popular spice widely used in several cuisines because of its strong and distinct flavor and unique color and fragrance. The health benefits of saffron include improved libido, nervous system function, and antioxidant status.

Saffron is a very popular spice widely used in several cuisines because of its strong and distinct flavor and unique color and fragrance. 

We will look at some of its health benefits and possible side effects.

Saffron is obtained from the dried stigma (sticky bulb in the center of flowers) of the Crocus sativus flower. It’s extensively used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines and has been part of the ancient Indian medicinal system of Ayurveda for thousands of years. Its numerous qualities make it an ideal choice to be used as a preservative, food ingredient, coloring agent, and as part of several traditional medicines.

Recent research is focused on understanding the various effects of the bioactive molecules in saffron and their corresponding health benefits.

Saffron can only be grown under specific climatic conditions such as those in India, Iran, and Southern Europe. Harvesting saffron is a highly labor-intensive and demanding process. This is the primary reason for the high cost of this spice.

It’s estimated that one pound of saffron needs over 225,000 stigmas from 75,000 blossoms.

Nutrition facts of saffron

Although saffron is not rich in macronutrients (like proteins, carbohydrates, and fat), it’s a good source of several micronutrients and is especially notable for its antioxidant content. These antioxidants and micronutrients come with many health benefits. A 10-gram portion of saffron contains:

Energy: 31 calories

Protein: 1.14 grams

Total lipid (fat): 0.585 grams 

Carbohydrate: 6.54 grams

Fiber (dietary): 0.39 grams

Calcium: 11.1 milligrams

Iron: 1.11 milligrams

Magnesium: 26.4 milligrams

Potassium: 172 milligrams

Phosphorus: 25.2 milligrams

Sodium: 14.8 milligrams

Zinc: 0.109 milligrams

Manganese: 2.84 milligrams

Selenium: 0.56 micrograms

Vitamin B6: 0.101 milligrams

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid): 8.08 milligrams

Thiamin: 0.01 milligrams

Riboflavin: 0.3 milligrams

Choline: 0.76 milligrams

Copper: 0.008 milligrams

Folate: 9.3 micrograms

Niacin: 0.146 milligrams

Health benefits of saffron

Saffron has more than 100 bioactive compounds that have many health benefits. These compounds have several properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammation, antidepressant, and hypolipidemic (molecules that lower lipid levels).

The herb’s unique color is attributed to crocetin, while picrocrocin is responsible for its bitter taste, and its unique aroma is due to the presence of safranal.

Rich in antioxidants

The presence of a large number of free radicals leads to an increased reaction with other chemical molecules and causes an imbalance in your body called oxidative stress. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress.

Saffron is rich in crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal, which are its main active antioxidants. It also contains compounds such as kaempferol and crocetin that also display antioxidant properties. These antioxidants help overcome the harmful effects of free radicals in your body that may lead to cell damage.

Could prevent nervous system disorders

The antioxidant activity of saffron could also protect you from conditions that typically affect your nervous system.

Research shows saffron helps lower the oxidative damage in the brain that could lead to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. The study was carried out over 22 weeks, during which a group of participants was given 30 milligrams per day of saffron, as compared to another group that was given a generic drug for this condition.

After 22 weeks, the group that was given saffron not only reported a similar improvement in cognitive function as that of the generic group but also reported fewer side effects.

While these results are promising, more research needs to be done.

Could help improve libido

Saffron may also help increase libido in both men and women. Studies indicate that the intake of saffron could help men with erectile dysfunction and improve libido.

Other studies also found that saffron increases libido in women with sexual dysfunction. This study, done over 4 weeks, included women who took 30 milligrams of saffron every day and showed that these women had increased libidos in comparison to those of the placebo group.


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May lower symptoms of premenstrual syndrome

A clinical trial involving women between the ages of 20 to 45 years indicated that the herb may reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

These women were given 30 milligrams of saffron every day and showed fewer symptoms of PMS as compared to the placebo group. The study also found that women who just smelled saffron for 20 minutes had lower cortisol levels (the hormone linked to stress). It’s believed that this could also contribute to reducing PMS symptoms (9).

How to prepare saffron?

Most of the saffron produced in the world is used for culinary purposes.

Saffron’s metallic aroma adds a distinct flavor to several dishes across multiple cuisines that are popular in Spain, Iran, and India.

Saffron is extensively used as a condiment in an Indian rice delicacy called biryani and also in Indian desserts such as kulfi and gulab jamun.

Paella Valenciana, a popular Spanish dish, which is prepared with fish and rice, is enriched with saffron, while Iran’s national dish (chelow kabab) is incomplete without this herb. It’s also widely used in French bouillabaisse (a spicy fish soup) and risotto, an Italian rice preparation.

Moroccan tea has popularized the use of saffron instead of mint.

Possible side effects

Using saffron for its culinary properties is safe and does not have any known side effects, nor does it cause any allergies in humans. Research shows that you can eat up to 1.5 grams of saffron every day without any side effects, and you need only 30 milligrams of saffron to benefit from its many healthy properties.

However, there have been some reports of toxicity due to high intake of saffron, especially in pregnant women. Check with your doctor to see what quantity of saffron is good for you.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/15/2022

Anti-inflammatory and Anti-allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry: "Anti-inflammatory properties of drugs from saffron crocus."

Antioxidants: "Vitamin E, Turmeric and Saffron in Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease."

Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine: "The effects of Crocus sativus (saffron) and its constituents on nervous system: A review," "A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on saffron (Crocus sativus) effectiveness and safety on erectile dysfunction and semen parameters."

Cosmetics: "Traditional and Modern Uses of Saffron (Crocus Sativus)."

Drug Research: "Clinical Applications of Saffron (Crocus sativus) and its Constituents: A Review."

Human Psychopharmacology: "Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study."

Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences: "Razi's Al-Hawi and saffron (Crocus sativus): a review." Nutrition Today: "Saffron."

U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Saffron."