Sunday, 27 March 2022


Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is extracted from the flowers of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. The first known use by humans of wild crocuses was as pigment for cave paintings, about 50000 years ago in today’s Iraq. Ancient texts from Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia also describe the use of wild crocuses in medicine and dye. Ancient artworks and genetics point to Bronze Age Greece, in 1700 BCE or earlier, as the origin of saffron’s domestication. Domesticated saffron can only be propagated asexually with human help. The process was first described by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus in the fourth century BCE. Today, domesticated saffron is grown for use in cooking and perfumes and as a yellow dye. 16000 flowers, requiring up to 470 person-hours to collect, yield a single kilo, worth between $1300 and $10000.
Dense patches of crocus flowers on the fresco ‘The Saffron Gatherers’ from the island of Santorini (1600 BCE) suggest cultivation. Around the globe today, all saffron crocuses are effectively clones dating back to saffron’s emergence in ancient times.