Grow and Harvest Your Own Saffron

Grow and harvest your own saffron, enjoying not just the beautiful blooms in the garden, but also incorporating the bright stigmas in your cooking.

| July / August 2018

  • Harvesting saffron is a careful process, but it can be a simple and enjoyable activity that results in a homemade spice supply.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/viperagp
  • Saffron crocus is a vibrant, purple flower that has a rich history of medicinal and culinary use.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/fresnel6

A field of delicate, purple flowers might not seem to be a likely source for one of the world’s most expensive spices, but saffron is — if nothing else — full of surprises. Grow and harvest your own saffron to truly access the history, beauty, complexity, and purposes of this plant.

Saffron comes from the saffron crocus plant (Crocus sativus), and once harvested and dried it makes its way into a host of memorable dishes, from paella to risotto. It’s a staple of Mediterranean, Spanish, and Indian cuisines, and it’s also important to Swedish culinary traditions during the holiday season. 

In addition to its prized value in cooking, saffron is known for its historic medicinal applications. Over the centuries, the spice has been used to treat an array of ailments, including depression, asthma, and heartburn, and it’s even said to have some cancer-fighting properties.

Another benefit, for those who savor aesthetics: Saffron crocus is a beautiful flower that adds a burst of unexpected color to the autumn garden.

But let’s turn to some numbers. Although it’s difficult to calculate an exact figure, it’s estimated that it takes more than 70,000 saffron crocus flowers to achieve a single pound of commercial saffron spice. That same pound, when sold, could cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, depending on the market and quality of the saffron.

Surprised? Here’s another number that you might not expect: The majority of the world’s current saffron production — 85 percent of it, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations — takes place in Iran. Saffron is also grown in parts of Europe (Spain and Italy are notable examples), but production in the United States is insignificant by comparison.

7/12/2018 1:27:31 PM

Bookmarkiing this article for sure, as paella and other dishes are some of my favorites, and the price of saffron is literally "out of this world," and difficult to find at any store near me. The last time I bought it was online, and I was disappointed in its quality. I'm in Texas, Zone 8, so it's worth a try, anyway.

6/13/2018 3:57:09 PM

I have a spot in my yard that might be just right for growing Saffron. I think I'll give it a try. These crocus like it hot and dry? I live in Arizona....I think they'll love it here!

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