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Crocin is a natural compound found in gardenia and crocus flowers. It contains a high amount of antioxidants and has a variety of medical uses. Crocin can be useful in treating mild to moderate depression. Animal studies show it has an aphrodisiac effect on males. Its anticarcinogenic properties, such as slowing the spread of cancer cells, make it a promising alternative to traditional cancer therapies.
The flowers of Gardenia jasminoides produce stigmas that contain crocin. Saffron, collected from the stigmas of Crocus sativas Linnaeus flowers, also contains it. The deep reddish-orange hue of this natural compound gives saffron its color. Crocin has been used for centuries as both a natural food colorant and as an ingredient in Eastern medicine.
The use of saffron as a medicine is documented in ancient literature. Historically, saffron was a home remedy for ailments such as stomach aches, headaches and insomnia. Research is being conducted in the early 21st century on crocin and safranal, two of the compounds found in saffron. As of 2011, the studies have shown that, while safranal has limited medicinal benefits, crocin works on a wide variety of medical issues. Many of the studies are preliminary, but they provide a foundation for further research.
A 2004 study compared saffron with imipramine in treating mild to moderate depression. Imipramine is a prescription drug used to treat depression. The double-blind study showed saffron, containing crocin, was as effective as imipramine in treating mild to moderate depression. Saffron also showed a distinct benefit over imipramine, because saffron does not cause the dry mouth and lethargy associated with imipramine use.
Several promising studies show crocin inhibits the growth and proliferation of cancer cells. In separate studies, it stopped the spread of both breast cancer and colorectal cancer. It was also shown to have a significant effect against non-small-cell lung carcinomas. One of the problems with typical cancer treatments is that healthy cells are sometimes destroyed along with the cancer cells. Crocin targets only the cancer cells and has no effect on healthy tissue.
Saffron has been considered an aphrodisiac since the days of ancient Egypt. Science now has evidence to prove saffron is, indeed, an aphrodisiac, and which compound of the spice is responsible for the increased libido. In one study, both crocin and safranal were derived from Crocus sativas stigmas. The compounds were given to separate groups of male rats. While the safranal did not have any effect on the rats, the rats injected with crocin exhibited increased mating activity.
@irontoenail - It can be done profitably, although there are countries where the saffron industry is well established and they tend to be able to get cheap labor to do most of the back breaking work.
More importantly, you have to have the right kind of climate for it to work. Crocus need to be cold enough to grow, so they aren't going to work in more temperate countries.
I actually always figured the best way to do it would be to plant them in planters at waist height, because the worst thing about the harvesting is bending down to get the stamen.
And I think that with all the crocin tablets and things you see around, saffron's worth is only going to keep increasing.
For a while I thought it would be a good idea to try growing crocuses. Saffron is the most expensive spice per weight in the world, after all, and it seems to be a growing industry, particularly with research showing all the benefits of compounds in it like crocin.
But, when I researched the plants it turned out to be only borderline profitable really. You have to plant a lot of crocus plants in order to harvest enough to be worth it, because each flower on yields a few grams of saffron.
And of course, they have to be harvested by hand and processed and all. It's very labor intensive and the reward is probably not worth it.
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