Healing Herb Calendula

Healing Herb Calendula
One of my favourite medicinal herbs, this calendula flower was visited by a bee when I snapped it at the Lismore Community Garden.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spices as Medicine: Part 2: Saffron

Highly prized throughout history and used as a flavouring, perfume, medicine, colouring and in ceremonies, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. This fact alone gives it an air of reverence and magic. The spice consists of the fine threadlike stigma of the Autumn Crocus (Crocus Sativus) flower. Each flower contains 3 or 4  threads, which to this day are harvested by hand, and it takes 150 flowers to produce just 1mg. of saffron. Because of its cost, it is frequently adulterated with cheaper substitutes, so one needs to be sure of its quality. This was such an issue that in the 15th century people convicted of adulterating saffron were burned or buried alive.

Next  to cardamom, saffron is my favourite spice to use in cooking. I love its pungent earthy flavour and remarkable colour, for example in saffron rice. It lends itself to sweet as well as savoury dishes. Although traditionally used as a medicine in the Middle East, it is more recently being incorporated into the modern herbal dispensary in the West.

Traditionally saffron was used medicinally for menstrual disorders, fever, coughs and colds, fertility problems, teething pain, depression and ‘general weakness’. In recent years, scientific studies have confirmed its effectiveness in many of these ailments.  Impressive results were found in research published in 2005 demonstrating improvements in patients with mild to moderate depression.  The effectiveness was similar to that found with prescription medications Prozac and Tofranil.

Another interesting study was done with people suffering mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. People treated with saffron extract showed a significant improvement in cognitive function. The saffron extract gave similar benefit to prescription medicine Aricept over a 22 week period. The saffron extract was tolerated better, with fewer side-effects than the prescription medicine.

Similarly, research studies have found benefit in PMS and macular degeneration. Saffron in medicinal amounts is usually well tolerated, although should be avoided in pregnancy.

Along with its use in depression, in clinical practice I have seen saffron used effectively for people experiencing grief.  A colleague of mine prescribes it along with a tincture of rose petals with excellent results. The combination tends to be very emotionally comforting.

Recently introduced in a liquid tincture form, saffron can be easily administered as a single herb, or as is my preference, combined with other herbs such as lemon balm, St. John’s wort, and bacopa to support the nervous system and cognitive functions.


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    Luckily, everything seemed to be okay after a few weeks of starting the herbs, this was a pleasant surprise. I promised myself that I would stay strong. You sit living in fear of the reality what you may face, never really knowing what will happen until it does. I am indebted and decided to always share my experience.
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