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Go on a Spice Tour to Gather Saffron

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by Sandy (subscribe)
I love life and enjoy it to the max, especially getting out and about, writing, taking zany art photos and playing my mandolin.
Published April 22nd 2013
Saffron the healing spice really is worth its weight in gold
I knew in the 60's there was something special about saffron, or Crocus Sativus, to give it its botanical name. I loved Donovan's song "I'm just wild about saffron and saffron's wild about me" but it has taken another few decades for the secret of saffron to be unlocked, and once again I am wild about this yellow spice worth its weight in gold.

Crocus Sativus potential cure for Macular degeneration
Beautiful Crocus Saffron a potential cure for eye disease. Image fromWikipedia

A science program on ABC Radio recently announced the results of a three month double-bind research study on the effects of saffron on the human retina. Saffron has long been thought to aid in eye health and to help with Retinitis Pigmentosa but this particular research in Venice in 2010 focused on the tragic eye disease of Macular Degeneration which can cause enormous discomfort to sufferers and can eventually lead to blindness. Medications so far have only been able to ease the condition and have included some unpleasant eventual treatments including injections in the eye and corneal transplants.

The study was lead by Professor Silvia Bisti of the University of Aquila along with leading opthalmologists and our own Australian Professor Johnson Stone from the Vision Centre and the Sydney University.

The results showed significant reduction in symptoms and even, in some cases, reversal of the disease. The ability to see and even read was returned to some extent to many in the study. Professor Stone is planning to run an Australian study later in the year.

A saffron tablet with the correct daily dose has now been produced. However, the scientists are quick to point out that using the spice in food will give the same results. Of course as with any substance don't overdo it or your liver will suffer but having a little saffron in your diet daily or weekly will increase your eye health generally and could stave off the onset of macular degeneration or retinal stress, something that may be needed down the track with intense use of screens in our daily lives.

[ADVERT]Most people think of saffron rice when thinking of recipes. Be careful when ordering this dish when eating out because often the "poor man's saffron" or turmeric is used to get a rich yellow colour and of course there is more profit for the retailer as saffron is expensive. Turmeric however is also a great spice with lots of health benefits so if you want your own saffron rice to be more than just a lemony-yellow colour you may want to add a bit to your dish. Saffron can be added to soups and stews and stewed fruit. It can be used with chicken, meat and fish, commonly trout in the United States. Paella, risotto, bouillabaisse and biriyani are some of the traditional recipes in other countries.

Saffron was first recorded in Greece from a wild plant originally from Crete. Later it became entrenched in other European and Middle Eastern Countries and then to India, the Americas and beyond. A suitcase of saffron was taken to Pennyslvania by Dutch religious pilgrims and grown extensively especially in the Lancaster area. Saffron was later listed in the US on the stock market at the same price as gold. Currently Iran is the main world producer. From the Australian saffron farming pioneers, Nicky and Terry Noonan, we now have high quality yields from saffron farms in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.

The high cost of saffron is due to its labour intensive collection of only the three or four stigma on each tiny crocus and the fact that you would need quite a few plants for each day's intake. According to Wikipedia you would need 50,000 flowers to yield 450 grams of dry saffron.

Saffron has long been used for various ailments and treatments. Cleopatra used it as an aphrodisiac, Alexander the Great used it to treat his battle wounds and the Phonecians used it to counteract depression. Saffron was also used to aromatise wine. Saffron is thought to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-oxidant properties, to help with the immune system and to alleviate retinal stress.

Saffron has been so treasured that there has even been a war over it. The fourteen day Saffron War began when pirates stole a saffron ship sailing from Rhodes during the 14th Century at the time of the Black Plague, when the demand for saffron increased dramatically.

The high cost of producing the threads has lead to much adulteration of the spice with other ingredients such as safflower and yellow dyes. Anyone found guilty of tampering with saffron at that time in Europe were either fined, incarcerated or executed under the Safranschou Code. Many people like to purchase the dried threads rather than the powdered form so that they know they are getting the real deal.

I intend to grow my own crocus plants for fun and culinary use and have contacted many plant traders, as yet unsuccessfully due to the quarantine restrictions on bringing the plants into our state on a normal process. However, I am researching Yates and Digger Seeds which apparently are both registered to supply the corms to Western Australia.

Grow your own Saffron from corms.
Grow your own Saffron from corms. Photo from Wikipedia

However, I am so wild about saffron that I couldn't wait for the corms to arrive and then grow - I went on my own tour of the spice merchants around my area. You can buy saffron from some of the larger supermarket chains too but it is so nice to wander around some of the many divine-smelling spice stores in Perth and in the suburbs.

In the South Eastern suburbs you can go on a real spice crawl as there are many outlets along Albany Highway including the Kairali Spice Centre (Shop 3 Number 1500) and the AusBangla Indian Grocery Store (Shop 4 Number 1468). This great outlet is open 7 days 9.30am to 7.00pm, and an extra hour and a half on Thursdays.

Nearby, at Shop 2 1468 Albany Highway, is Salaan Namste Retail and Wholesale Indian Groceries. In the city there is Prime Products at 414 William Street, Northbridge. The Spice Merchants in Osborne Park also sounds like a great place to check out the saffron and other spices.

Anyway, I am hooked. Most of the spices allure me to buy and try them, except that is for the foetid-smelling "asfoetida", a member of the lily family. Quite frankly, it stinks. Apparently when it is cooked the stench disappears and gives a lovely interesting flavour to the food similar to garlic and onions but to be honest I can't face taking it out of the packet in a box in a bag in a tin in the back of the pantry where I have hidden it. Until I hear of some research telling me about its miraculous curative properties it will be staying right there. No such problem with the mellow and delicately flavoured saffron.

saffron threads recipes spice
Saffron threads for spicy healthy recipes

Just crush, then soak, a half a teaspoon of saffron threads in hot but not boiling water for a while before adding it to a recipe. Use it for the taste, the healing properties, its help in eye health but also as a link to the past and to the lyrics of that beautiful haunting song - they call me Mellow Yellow, quite rightly!
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Why? Research on saffron in Venice has shown it to be an amazing healing spice
Where: Albany Highway, Cannington
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