People use saffron most commonly for depression, anxiety, Alzheimer disease, menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Saffron is also used for many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
In foods, saffron is used as a spice, yellow food coloring, and as a flavoring agent.
In manufacturing, saffron extracts are used as fragrance in perfumes and as a dye for cloth.
How does it work ?
Uses & Effectiveness ?
Possibly Effective for
- Alzheimer disease. Taking a specific saffron extract by mouth for up to 22 weeks seems to improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Saffron might work about as well as the prescription drug donepezil (Aricept).
- Depression. Research shows that taking saffron by mouth for 6-12 weeks improves symptoms of depression. Early research in patients already taking an antidepressant shows that adding saffron extract further improves symptoms of depression. But taking saffron might not help people that have both anxiety and depression.
- Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). Some research shows the taking a specific product containing saffron, anise, and celery seed reduces pain during the menstrual cycle.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some research shows that taking a specific saffron extract improves symptoms of PMS after two menstrual cycles.
Insufficient Evidence for
- An eye disease that leads to vision loss in older adults (age-related macular degeneration or AMD). Early research shows that taking saffron for up to 6 months might lead to small improvements in vision for people with AMD.
- Sexual problems caused by antidepressants (antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction). Taking an antidepressant can make some people lose interest in sex. Early research shows that taking saffron for 4 weeks improves satisfaction with sex in men and women taking an antidepressant. But it doesn't seem to improve desire for sex or orgasm.
- Metabolic side effects caused by antipsychotic drugs. Some antipsychotic drugs can increase blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Early research shows that taking saffron for 12 weeks can prevent this increase in blood sugar. But taking saffron doesn't seem to prevent the increase in blood cholesterol.
- Anxiety. Some research shows that taking saffron extract by mouth for 8-12 weeks can reduce anxiety symptoms in some people.
- Asthma. Early research shows that taking saffron might reduce some symptoms of asthma in people with allergic asthma.
- Athletic performance. Early research shows that taking saffron, or a chemical from saffron called crocetin, can decrease fatigue and improve muscle strength in men during exercise.
- Burning pain in the mouth. Early research shows that taking crocin, a chemical in saffron, reduces pain in people with this condition.
- Diabetes. It is unclear if taking saffron reduces blood sugar in people with diabetes.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED). Early research shows that applying saffron to the skin can improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Some research has also shown that taking saffron by mouth can benefit men with erectile dysfunction. But other research shows that taking saffron by mouth is not beneficial. More research is needed to understand if saffron is useful for treating erectile dysfunction.
- Muscle soreness caused by exercise. Early research shows that taking saffron might prevent sore muscles in men who do not typically exercise.
- A group of eye disorders that can lead to vision loss (glaucoma). Early research shows that taking saffron for 4 weeks, in addition to regular treatment, might reduce some of the symptoms of glaucoma.
- High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia). Taking saffron doesn't seem to reduce lipid levels in most people. But more research is needed in people with high levels of fats in the blood.
- High blood pressure. Early research shows that drinking black tea containing saffron three times daily for 8 weeks does not reduce blood pressure in people who have diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Prediabetes. Early research shows that taking saffron extract for 2 months might improve blood sugar control in people with prediabetes.
- Insomnia. Early research shows that taking saffron extract improves sleep in people with sleep issues.
- Conditions in a man that prevent him from getting a woman pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (male infertility). Some research shows that saffron might improve sperm function in men. But other research has not shown this benefit.
- Fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Early research shows that taking saffron extract might reduce fatigue in people with MS.
- Depression after childbirth (postpartum depression). Early research shows that taking a specific saffron product for 6 weeks works as well as fluoxetine for reducing symptoms of depression in women after giving birth. Other early research shows that taking saffron for 8 weeks might reduce symptoms of depression in breastfeeding women. But it's not clear if saffron caused this effect or if the depression went away on its own.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Early research shows that taking saffron extract might reduce pain and swollen joints in people with RA.
- Symptoms of menopause.
- Early male orgasm (premature ejaculation).
- "Hardening of the arteries" (atherosclerosis).
- Stomach gas.
- Other conditions.
Taking large amounts of saffron by mouth is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. High doses of 5 grams or more can cause poisoning. Doses of 12-20 grams can cause death.
When applied to the skin: There isn't enough reliable information to know if saffron is safe or what the side effects might be.
Special Precautions and Warnings
There isn't enough reliable information to know if saffron is safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and stick to food amounts.
Bipolar disorder: Saffron seems to be able to affect mood. There is a concern that it might trigger excitability and impulsive behavior (mania) in people with bipolar disorder. Don't use saffron if you have this condition.
Allergies to Lolium, Olea (includes olive), and Salsola plant species: People who are allergic to these plants might also be allergic to saffron.
Diabetes: Saffron might affect blood sugar levels. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use saffron.
Heart conditions: Saffron might affect how fast and how strong the heart beats. Taking large amounts of saffron might worsen some heart conditions.
Low blood pressure: Saffron might lower blood pressure. Taking saffron might make blood pressure become too low in people with low blood pressure.
Surgery: Saffron slows down the central nervous system. Anesthesia and other medications used during surgery also affect the central nervous system. The combined effects might be harmful. Stop taking saffron at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
We currently have no information for SAFFRON overview.
- For Alzheimer disease: 30 mg of saffron extract daily for 22 weeks.
- For depression: 30 mg of a saffron extract or 100 mg of saffron daily for up to 12 weeks. 15 mg of the saffron chemical crocin twice daily for 4 weeks. 14 mg saffron extract (affron, Pharmactive Biotech Products) twice daily for 8 weeks.
- For premenstrual syndrome (PMS): 15 mg of a saffron extract twice daily.
- For menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea): 500 mg of a specific combination product containing saffron, celery seed and anise extracts (SCA, Gol Daro Herbal Medicine Laboratory) taken three times a day for the first three days of menstruation.
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Begas E, Bounitsi M, Kilindris T, et al. Effects of short-term saffron (Crocus sativus L.) intake on the in vivo activities of xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes in healthy volunteers. Food Chem Toxicol. 2019;130:32-43. View abstract.
Broadhead GK, Grigg JR, McCluskey P, Hong T, Schlub TE, Chang AA. Saffron therapy for the treatment of mild/moderate age-related macular degeneration: a randomised clinical trial. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2019;257(1):31-40. View abstract.
Brown AC, Hairfield M, Richards DG, et al. Medical nutrition therapy as a potential complementary treatment for psoriasis - five case reports. Altern Med Rev 2004;9:297-307. View abstract.
Dai L, Chen L, Wang W. Safety and Efficacy of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for Treating Mild to Moderate Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2020;208(4):269-276. View abstract.
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21. Part 182 -- Substances Generally Recognized As Safe. Available at: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=182
Fadai F, Mousavi B, Ashtari Z, Ali beigi N, Farhang S, Hashempour S, Shahhamzei N, Bathaie SZ. Saffron aqueous extract prevents metabolic syndrome in patients with schizophrenia on olanzapine treatment: a randomized triple blind placebo controlled study. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2014 Jul;47(4-5):156-61. View abstract.
Falsini B, Piccardi M, Minnella A, Savastano C, Capoluongo E, Fadda A, Balestrazzi E, Maccarone R, Bisti S. Influence of saffron supplementation on retinal flicker sensitivity in early age-related macular degeneration. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2010 Dec;51(12):6118-24. View abstract.
Feo F, Martinez J, Martinez A, et al. Occupational allergy in saffron workers. Allergy 1997;52:633-41. View abstract.
Ghajar A, Neishabouri SM, Velayati N, et al. Crocus sativus L. versus citalopram in the treatment of major depressive disorder with anxious distress: a double-blind, controlled clinical trial. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2017 Jul;50(4):152-160. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-116159. View abstract.
Giaccio M. Crocetin from saffron: an active component of an ancient spice. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2004;44:155-72. View abstract.
Grainer JL, Jones JR. The Use of Crocetin in Experimental Atherosclerosis. Experientia 1975;31:548-9.
Hamidi Z, Aryaeian N, Abolghasemi J, et al. The effect of saffron supplement on clinical outcomes and metabolic profiles in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2020;34(7):1650-1658. View abstract.
Haqqaq EG, Abou-Moustafa MA, Boucher W, Theoharides TC. The effect of a herbal water-extract on histamine release from mast cells and on allergic asthma. J Herb Pharmacother 2003;3:41-54. View abstract.
Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov;11(6):377-83. View abstract.
Heidary M, Vahhabi S, Reza Nejadi J, et al. Effect of saffron on semen parameters of infertile men. Urol J 2008;5:255-9. View abstract.
Hosseini A, Razavi BM, Hosseinzadeh H. Pharmacokinetic properties of saffron and its active components. Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet. 2018;43(4):383-390. View abstract.
Jabbarpoor Bonyadi MH, Yazdani S, Saadat S. The ocular hypotensive effect of saffron extract in primary open angle glaucoma: a pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Oct 15;14:399. View abstract.
Karimi-Nazari E, Nadjarzadeh A, Masoumi R, et al. Effect of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on lipid profile, glycemic indices and antioxidant status among overweight/obese prediabetic individuals: A double-blinded, randomized controlled trial. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2019;34:130-136. View abstract.
Kashani L, Eslatmanesh S, Saedi N, Niroomand N, Ebrahimi M, Hosseinian M, Foroughifar T, Salimi S, Akhondzadeh S. Comparison of Saffron versus Fluoxetine in Treatment of Mild to Moderate Postpartum Depression: A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2016 Sep 5. View abstract.
Kashani L, Raisi F, Saroukhani S, Sohrabi H, Modabbernia A, Nasehi AA, Jamshidi A, Ashrafi M, Mansouri P, Ghaeli P, Akhondzadeh S. Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jan;28(1):54-60. View abstract.
Kell G, Rao A, Beccaria G, et al. Affron® a novel saffron extract (Crocus sativus L.) improves mood in healthy adults over 4 weeks in a double-blind, parallel, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017 Aug;33:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2017.06.001. View abstract.
Kianbakht S, Ghazavi A. Immunomodulatory effects of saffron: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2011 Dec;25(12):1801-5. View abstract.
Kubo I, Kinst-Hori I. Flavonols from saffron flower: tyrosinase inhibitory activity and inhibition mechanism. J Agric Food Chem 1999;47:4121-5. View abstract.
Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Efficacy of curcumin, and a saffron/curcumin combination for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2017 Jan 1;207:188-196. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.09.047. View abstract.
Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Hood SD, Drummond PD. Efficacy of a standardised saffron extract (affron) as an add-on to antidepressant medication for the treatment of persistent depressive symptoms in adults: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Psychopharmacol. 2019;33(11):1415-1427. View abstract.
Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Metse AP, Drummond PD. Effects of saffron on sleep quality in healthy adults with self-reported poor sleep: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Sleep Med. 2020;16(6):937-947. View abstract.
Mahdavian M, Mirzaii Najmabadi K, Hosseinzadeh H, Mirzaeian S, Badiee Aval S, Esmaeeli H. Effect of the mixed herbal medicines extract (fennel, chamomile, and saffron) on menopause syndrome: a randomized controlled clinical trial. J Caring Sci. 2019;8(3):181-9. View abstract.
Mazidi M, Shemshian M, Mousavi SH, Norouzy A, Kermani T, Moghiman T, Sadeghi A, Mokhber N, Ghayour-Mobarhan M, Ferns GA. A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 1;13(2):195-9. View abstract.
Meamarbashi A, Rajabi A. Potential Ergogenic Effects of Saffron. J Diet Suppl. 2016;13(5):522-9. View abstract.
Meamarbashi A, Rajabi A. Preventive effects of 10-day supplementation with saffron and indomethacin on the delayed-onset muscle soreness. Clin J Sport Med. 2015 Mar;25(2):105-12. View abstract.
Milajerdi A, Jazayeri S, Shirzadi E, et al. The effects of alcoholic extract of saffron (Crocus satious L.) on mild to moderate comorbid depression-anxiety, sleep quality, and life satisfaction in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2018;41:196-202. View abstract.
Miller TL, Willett SL, Moss ME, et al. Binding of crocetin to plasma albumin. J Pharm Sci 1982;71:173-7. View abstract.
Mizuma H, Tanaka M, Nozaki S, et al. Daily oral administration of crocetin attenuates physical fatigue in human subjects. Nutr Res 2009;29:145-50. View abstract.
Mobasseri M, Ostadrahimi A, Tajaddini A, et al. Effects of saffron supplementation on glycemia and inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial study. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020;14(4):527-534. View abstract.
Modabbernia A, Sohrabi H, Nasehi AA, Raisi F, Saroukhani S, Jamshidi A, Tabrizi M, Ashrafi M, Akhondzadeh S. Effect of saffron on fluoxetine-induced sexual impairment in men: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Oct;223(4):381-8. View abstract.
Mohammadzadeh-Moghadam H, Nazari SM, Shamsa A, Kamalinejad M, Esmaeeli H, Asadpour AA, Khajavi A. Effects of a Topical Saffron (Crocus sativus L) Gel on Erectile Dysfunction in Diabetics: A Randomized, Parallel-Group, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2015 Oct;20(4):283-6. View abstract.
Moravej Aleali A, Amani R, Shahbazian H, Namjooyan F, Latifi SM, Cheraghian B. The effect of hydroalcoholic Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) extract on fasting plasma glucose, HbA1c, lipid profile, liver, and renal function tests in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized double-blind clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2019;33(6):1648-1657. View abstract.
Nahid K, Fariborz M, Ataolah G, Solokian S. The effect of an Iranian herbal drug on primary dysmenorrhea: a clinical controlled trial. J Midwifery Womens Health 2009;54:401-4. View abstract.
Nair SC, Pannikar B, Panikkar KR. Antitumor activity of Saffron (Crocus sativus). Cancer Lett 1991;57:109-14. View abstract.
Noorbala AA, Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Jamshidi AH. Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized pilot trial. J Ethnopharmacol 2005;97:281-4. View abstract.
Pakfetrat A, Talebi M, Dalirsani Z, Mohajeri A, Zamani R, Ghazi A. Evaluation of the effectiveness of crocin isolated from saffron in treatment of burning mouth syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2019;9(6):505-516. View abstract.
Pourmasoumi M, Hadi A, Najafgholizadeh A, Kafeshani M, Sahebkar A. Clinical evidence on the effects of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review meta-analysis. Pharmacol Res. 2019;139:348-359. View abstract.
Safarinejad MR, Shafiei N, Safarinejad S. A prospective double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study of the effect of saffron (Crocus sativus Linn.) on semen parameters and seminal plasma antioxidant capacity in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia. Phytother Res 2011;25:508-16. View abstract.
Safarinejad MR, Shafiei N, Safarinejad S. An open label, randomized, fixed-dose, crossover study comparing efficacy and safety of sildenafil citrate and saffron (Crocus sativus Linn.) for treating erectile dysfunction in men naïve to treatment. Int J Impot Res. 2010 Jul-Aug;22(4):240-50. View abstract.
Shamsa A, Hosseinzadeh H, Molaei M, et al. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine 2009;16:690-3. View abstract.
Tóth B, Hegyi P, Lantos T, et al. The efficacy of saffron in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A meta-analysis. Planta Med. 2019;85(1):24-31. View abstract.
Tabeshpour J, Sobhani F, Sadjadi SA, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of saffron stigma (Crocus sativus L.) in mothers suffering from mild-to-moderate postpartum depression. Phytomedicine. 2017 Dec 1;36:145-152. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2017.10.005. View abstract.
Talaei A, Hassanpour Moghadam M, Sajadi Tabassi SA, Mohajeri SA. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-6. View abstract.
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Zilaee M, Hosseini SA, Jafarirad S, et al. An evaluation of the effects of saffron supplementation on the asthma clinical symptoms and asthma severity in patients with mild and moderate persistent allergic asthma: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial. Respir Res. 2019;20(1):39. View abstract.
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