Saffron: The Anti-Aging Herb

This is an excerpt from the book, A Pocket Full of Posies, a collection of articles written by Martha Benedict.

I’m just wild about Saffron.  No, not the woman referred to in the 1960’s Donovan song – I’m wild about cooking with saffron.  Saffron has been used in recipes from appetizers to desserts, in cuisines around the world. There are the deep hues of red, orange, and yellow that enhances the pleasure of foods. The incredible aroma and sophisticated taste are unsurpassed.  But saffron is under-utilized in American kitchens.  It is time to understand its benefits. 

As an herbalist I know saffron has to be the finest anti-aging herb ever designed. It contains lycopene, found to stabilize vision problems associated with aging – cataracts and macular degeneration.  In Chinese medicine, it invigorates the blood which means it prevents strokes and heart attacks. It tastes better than aspirin and won’t upset your stomach. It also disperses liver chi stagnation. This is code for taking the elephant off your chest and putting you in a better mood.  Saffron has been part of medical records in India, Greece, Egypt, Persia, and Rome.  Abruzzi wrote, “Saffron arouses joy in every breast, settles the stomach, gives the liver rest.” In modern research saffron has been found to contain vitamin A, B1, B2, an array of antioxidants, and chemotherapeutic agents. The most recent researchers at Rutgers University are currently identifying the active compounds in saffron and trying to ascertain their mode of action on cancer cells.

Historically, saffron has been used for afflictions of everything from cardiovascular problems to black plague, improving appetite and digestion of fats, relieving rheumatoid arthritis, and inhibiting helicobacter pylori infections involved in stomach ulcers.

There are easy ways to include saffron in your daily diet. I use a saffron infusion in vegetable, fish (bouillabaisse), egg drop, and even miso soup. The aroma, a musky rich complexity, occurs immediately and becomes more complex over time. Add saffron in an herb mixture to a favorite recipe of seafood, chicken, lamb, eggs, paella, rice, beans, chutneys, nut and spice mixtures. A few filaments can be added to scrambled eggs along with smoked salmon and/or vegetables. Adding saffron to your favorite quiche is colorful. Using saffron in a marinade for fish, chicken or lamb for a curry or BBQ will elicit animated commentary from your consumers. Rice dishes are a perfect foil for saffron. When splurging, it can be baked in bread and desserts such as nut cakes, rice pudding as well as added to berries or ice cream.

The Rutgers researchers were explicit: saffron works better when taken by oral ingestion.  What are we waiting for?

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