Saffron is the most valuable medicinal food product because of its importance in Iran\'s agricultural economy. The dried stigmas of the plant Crocus sativus (Iridaceae) are processing to produce saffron as a well-known spice which has some other importance in pharmaceutics, cosmetics, perfumery, and textile dye-producing industries. Recently, reports about the pharmacological activity of this plant increase its importance in the world. The world\'s annual saffron production is estimated around 300 tons per year (Iran produces 76% of total) and also saffron is considered to be the most expensive spice in the world; hence, there are efforts for its artificial production or defraud. Therefore, the quality conservation of saffron needs to certify in the international trade market following international ISO or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria and standards. In this paper, the recent (or sometimes less documented) reports on phytochemistry, pharmacology, and standard methods for quality evaluation of saffron, as a medicinal food spice, from field cultivation to market are reviewed.
Crocus sativus L. is a perennial spicy herb (Iridaceae family) and well known as Red Gold in producer countries. This plant is the most expensive cultivated herb in the world. The origin of the word saffron is the French term Safran, which was derived from the Latin word safranum and comes from the Arabic word as far that means “yellow.”[2,3,4] But this word is different from the ancient Persian word as Karkum which was used by the people living around Zagros Mountains. It has been documented that saffron was used as a food or spicy plant product for culinary purposes in Achamenian Imperial court. The underground parts of the plant, corms or bulbs, can be used to produce new plant as this plant has no seed propagation. The outstanding feature of the colored flowers of saffron is three stigmas (25-30 mm long), drooped over the petals. The flower has also three yellow stamens, which do not contain the active compounds and usually are not collected. Each bulb produces one to seven flowers. It seems that the cultivated species has originated as a natural hybrid so that it has been selected for its long stigmas and maintained ever since. The flower of C. sativa is a light purple, but it is the thread-like reddish-colored stigma of the flower that is valued both as a spice and as a natural colorant. It takes about 36,000 flowers to yield just 1 pound of stigmas.[6,7,8] Over 200,000 dried stigmas (obtained from about 70,000 flowers) yield 500 g of pure saffron (not contaminated with safflower) which cost as much as $30 per ounce in the American market