Saffron is the delicate, bright-red part of the crocus sativus flower, a member of the lily family. The branched stigmas are collected from the flower to produce the actual saffron spice. Because saffron plants are exceedingly difficult to grow, this spice is very expensive to produce and purchase — a delicacy once enjoyed only by the very wealthy. For many centuries, saffron tea has been used both as a folk medicinal remedy and as a pleasant-tasting, healthful beverage. The ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians drank this flavorful tea, believing it to have positive effects on eyesight and the cardiovascular and digestive systems.
It has long been believed that drinking a cup of saffron tea daily can prevent or retard blindness. The fatty acid content in the tea protects vision cells, according to recent studies conducted by the University of L’Aquila in Abruzzi, Italy. This tea also contains antioxidants and flavonoids such as lycopene, known to reduce the risk of heart disease. These flavonoids may inhibit the spread of cancerous cells and shrink the size of cancerous growths, based upon the results of some early clinical trials. Carotenoids found in saffron may provide additional protection against viruses and disease.
Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), widely regarded as the father of holistic medicine, urged his students to drink saffron tea to promote regularity, better digestion and for other health benefits. The writings of Cayce reference saffron more than 250 times. In 1931, Cayce promoted tea made with saffron as an adjunct treatment to osteopathic manipulation and colonic irrigation, claiming that the tea promoted peristalsis. Cayce instructed his readers to take a half-ounce (about a tablespoon) of weak yellow saffron tea several times a day, between meals, as a digestive aid. Cayce also recommended the tea as a treatment for measles due to its antiseptic effects.
Saffron tea's dark red color comes from crocin, a chemical component of the flower. Preparation of the tea requires about 20 to 30 minutes for proper steeping. To steep the tea, pour boiling hot water over two or three small threads of saffron, cover and let rest. When making saffron tea, only the highest quality saffron should be used. Saffron is not always readily available from local grocers, but it can be found through specialty retailers online. It is typically special ordered and imported in bulk. Saffron may be sold as a powder or threads and should always be stored in a cool, dry place.