The history and Origin of Saffron
What is the history of Saffron and where is its origin ?
Saffron was long among the world’s most costly spices by weight. Although some doubts remain on its origin, it is believed that saffron originated in Iran.
However, Greece and Mesopotamia have also been suggested as the possible region of origin of this plant. Saffron crocus slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.
Saffron was detailed in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal. Documentation of saffron’s use over the span of 3,500 years has been uncovered. Saffron-based pigments have indeed been found in 50,000-year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran.
The Sumerians later used wild growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long distance trade before the Minoan palace culture’s 2nd millennium BC peak.
Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron (Crocus sativus ‚Hausknechtii‘) in Derbent, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the 10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes.Saffron threads would thus be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy.
Non-Persians also feared the Persians‘ usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander’s troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron bathing to Greece.
Conflicting theories explain saffron’s arrival in South Asia. Kashmiri and Chinese accounts date its arrival anywhere between 2500 and 900 years ago. Historians studying ancient Persian records date the arrival to sometime prior to 500 BC, attributing it to a Persian transplantation of saffron corms to stock new gardens and parks. Phoenicians then marketed Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Its use in foods and dyes subsequently spread throughout South Asia.
Some historians believe that saffron came to China with Mongol invaders from Persia. Yet saffron is mentioned in ancient Chinese medical texts, including the forty-volume pharmacopoeia titled Shennong Bencaojing (神农本草经: „Shennong’s Great Herbal“, also known as Pen Ts’ao or Pun Tsao), a tome dating from 300–200 BC. Traditionally credited to the fabled Yan („Fire“) Emperor (炎帝) Shennong, it discusses 252 phytochemical-based medical treatments for various disorders. Nevertheless, around the 3rd century AD, the Chinese were referring to saffron as having a Kashmiri provenance. According to Chinese herbalist Wan Zhen, „the habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to the Buddha.“ Wan also reflected on how it was used in his time: „The flower withers after a few days, and then the saffron is obtained. It is valued for its uniform yellow colour. It can be used to aromatise wine.“