Saffron: Origins, History & Health Benefits
6 Minute Read

In some form or another, saffron has been interwoven with humans for at least 6000 years. Its scientific name is Crocus sativus, but the name “saffron” is most likely derived from the ancient Persian word “zarparan”, meaning “to have golden stigmas”, or the ancient Arabic word “za-feran”, meaning “yellowish”. 


Saffron is one of the most expensive herbs in the world, because it’s obnoxious to grow and harvest. The species of saffron traded today are not found in the wild and cannot reproduce without human intervention. On top of that, you need to grow a tonne of saffron plants just to harvest the stigmas – those little red fibers you add to curries and paella to give it that yellow color and savory, aromatic flavor. Hence the high-demand, low-supply, way-too-expensive vibe.


There is ample evidence saffron has been used medicinally for several millennia; it shows up on frescoes, in medical texts, and in poetry all over the world. At some points in history, it was more valuable than gold, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as red gold.


The Ancient History of “Red Gold”, Crocus Sativus

The saffron we know and love is thought to originate from what are today Western Afghanistan and Eastern Iran. But it might also be from Greece. Or Mesopotamia. Oh, and there’s a wild, very-close cousin that grows in Central Asia. And because of its extensive history in culinary and medicinal use, saffron is now also grown in North America, South America and Africa. Per usual, Australia is left out, playing by itself on the other side of the Wallace Line.


Let’s look at some highlights of documented evidence of saffron use in different ancient cultures:


  • Iraq, 30-50,000 BP: Saffron-based pigments are used to depict animals in cave paintings.
  • Akkadia, 4300 BP: Emperor Sargon of Akkad is said to have originally been from Azupiranu, which is often referred to in ancient texts as “Saffron City.”
  • Crete, 3600 BP: Minoan frescoes depict the annual saffron harvest and offering to the gods.
  • Egypt, 3200 BP: Physicians use saffron in immune tonics and royal perfumes. Saffron powder is mixed with water and used as eye drops to prevent cataracts.
  • Persia, 3000 BP: Saffron threads are woven into royal textiles like rugs and tapestries. Saffron drinks are used as a way to cure depression and melancholy.
  • Greece, 2000 BP: The physician Dioscorides documents the usefulness of saffron teas in treating shingles.
  • Rome, 2000 BP: Medical writer Aulus Cornelius Celsus documents saffron as a treatment for colic, cough, scabies, and open wounds.


Other ancient and historic instances of saffron in medicine include:


  • Gilgamesh’s perfumer is said to have used saffron salves to treat the emperor’s painful legs.
  • Alexander the Great was said to use almost a cup of saffron a day in drinks, baths and other concoctions. He is also credited with the Eastern spread of saffron into India and East Asia following his conquests.
  • Saffron is used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, likely beginning after Alexander the Great.
  • Cleopatra is said to have taken saffron-laced baths as an aphrodisiac.
  • In Medieval England, saffron teas were used against the Black Death.
  • In Nuremburg, there was a law in the Middle Ages that set fines, imprisonment and even execution for stealing saffron.
  • In 14th-century Austria, there was an actual dispute about saffron trade so violent it became known as the Saffron War.


The list is endless, really. Suffice to say, saffron has been here a long time, and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. And like all the adaptogens, nootropics and superfoods in MTE, this ancient nootropic has some science behind its medicinal magick.

What is MTE?

Dialed-In Focus

What is MTE?

Mood Support

What is MTE?

Boosted Recovery

What is MTE?

Calm Energy

What is MTE?

A daily wellness companion providing comprehensive system support for energy, mood, focus, stress response, and sleep at night.

What is MTE?

Modern Research on Saffron’s Health-Supporting Abilities

Since saffron’s relationship with humans is aeons long, modern medical research had a great foundation to start with when asking the question of how to uncover and prove saffron’s medicinal abilities. Saffron may be a nootropic, but it’s also a superfood. Its nutritional profile includes vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and carotenoids, including 4 of the most powerful antioxidants we know of: safranal, pricocrococin, crocin, and crocetin.


The vital compounds that make saffron so super are highly-bioavailable, meaning your body can make use of most of what’s ingested, which is what gives saffron its health-boosting abilities. The powerful antioxidants in saffron support against oxidative stress, which is implicated in over 100 physical, mental and neurological conditions.


Notably, the carotenoids are such that the body doesn’t alter them on their way to your bloodstream. As well, these carotenoids are water-soluble, which is what makes beverages an effective way to supplement with saffron. MTE uses a premium extract of the saffron plant, Affron®, which contains these concentrated active compounds.


Numerous scientific reviews from 2008-2018 observed the posited bioactivity of saffron, including inhibition of tumor growth, protective effects on the hippocampus, liver and heart, and increment ocular blood flow, particularly via its antioxidant compounds: 


  • Clinical research demonstrates crocetin, a main antioxidant compound in saffron, benefits the central nervous system, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, endocrine, immune and reproductive systems.
  • A rat study suggested crocetin and crocin have neuroprotective effects on the brain.
  • Pricocrococin, a main antioxidant compound in saffron, has demonstrated anti-proliferative properties on human cell cancers.
  • Safranal and crocetin have both demonstrated high radical-scavenging abilities in the body.


Let’s look at some select purposes and evidence for saffron’s use in medicine over the last 3 decades of clinical research:



While this list isn’t necessarily endless, it’s still extensive, and certainly intriguing. A search through current research reveals that the scientific community isn’t really disputing the usefulness of saffron, but rather exploring the mechanisms, potential applications, dosages, and efficacy of saffron as a treatment for various ailments.


Affron®: A Standardized Saffron Extract with Potent Abilities

As we mentioned before, MTE utilizes Affron® in place of saffron in our health-and-energy-boosting green powder. Affron® is a premium, standardized extract of saffron comprised of its two most powerful carotenoids, safranal and crocin. Affron® focuses a few of saffron’s specific abilities, namely, mood and brain health support. In clinical settings, Affron® supplements have demonstrated anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and anti-anhedonic abilities. There is also data to support Affron® as a nootropic for recovery.


Interested in learning more about how a daily green powder supplement of adaptogens, nootropics and superfoods can support your quality of life? We’re talking way more than just a natural energy drink; MTE is a daily wellness drink full of feel-good ingredients that promote tranquil mood, steady energy, peak performance, and clear cognition. Check it out.

Back to Blog

More articles you might like