The Saffron Mystique

This legendary spice offers rewards to cooks and gardeners alike.

| February/March 2001

  • Saffron harvesting is still done by hand.

  • Drying saffron over hot coals.
  • A commercial use for saffron’s sweetly scented petals may be in the future.
  • A wooden saffron box with Pennsylvania-grown saffron threads.
  • Saffron was used as a dye for the yellow in this Azerbaijani carpet.
  • A saffron corm ready to plant in Holland. Corms must be at least this size—1 inch in diameter—if they are to flower their first year.
  • The first shoots of the saffron crocus appear anywhere from late September to early December.


I opened my e-mail one day in 1998 to learn that an American was looking for 900,000 saffron corms to plant in Zimbabwe. Since then, potential commercial saffron growers in countries as diverse as Belize, Thailand, Chile, South Africa, Malawi, Moldavia, Hungary, and Kenya have contacted me for cultivating and processing information. Since 1985, when I began exploring saffron, I have witnessed a renaissance of global interest in this spice’s cultivation and use.

Saffron comes from the three red stigmas of the saffron crocus bloom, which must be harvested by hand daily during the short, frenzied flowering season. 

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