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Mad About Saffron

Our ancestors understood that herbs and spices weren't just useful for their rich flavors, but for their medicinal properties as well. In this Project CBD article, Martin A. Lee points out that it's "only recently that scientists have discovered the bioactive constituents and molecular mechanisms of several common kitchen spices." These spices -- which include saffron, turmeric, peppercorn, and nutmeg -- have been shown to "reduce oxidative stress and inflammation while modulating multiple healing pathways simultaneously."

Saffron in particular promotes neural health. Lee writes:

A 2013 report by Iranian scientists in Pharmacognosy Review examined the neuroprotective effects of saffron extracts, which inhibited the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain in animal models of Alzheimer’s. The same article noted that saffron extracts could “prevent retinal damage [and] age-related macular degeneration.” An Italian research team subsequently showed that saffron can counteract the effects of continuous bright light exposure in lab rats by enhancing retinal blood flow. Saffron “engages” both the CB1 cannabinoid receptor and the CB2 cannabinoid receptor “in order to afford retinal protection,” the Italian scientists concluded.

Described as “the most expensive cultivated herb in the world,” saffron (Crocus sativus) is a much-revered food seasoning and a natural colorant. Cultivated originally in Persia and Asia Minor, this legendary spice comes from a light purple flower with thread-like red-orange stigma that contains 150 bioactive components, including carotenoids, flavonoids, and other potent polyphenols. A rich source of riboflavin (vitamin B-2) and free-radical scavengers, saffron has a long history of use as a folk medicine for treating cancer, convulsions, headaches, skin conditions, asthma, ulcers, premenstrual distress, and other diseases. The Ebers papyrus (1550 BC) refers to saffron as a “cheering cardiac medicament” and a cure for kidney problems.

Scientific studies indicate that saffron improves learning and memory by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine. Saffron also enhances the functioning of the GABA receptor, which explains in part its efficacy as relaxant and nerve tonic. Clinical trials evaluated the anti-depressant properties of saffron and concluded that it was more effective than a placebo and equivalent to Prozac.

Learn more about the medical benefits of common kitchen spices over at Project CBD.


Save the date: Join Martin A. Lee for a Project CBD event at The Alchemist’s Kitchen in New York on November 10.