The saffron flower is considered the mother of one of the most expensive spices in the world. In most cases, the flower is actually called the saffron crocus, and is only one of eighty species in its genus. It belongs to the important iridaceae family, and is native to areas of Southwest Asia. These blossoms, which go through a period of estivation in spring, bloom in autumn – between the middle of October and the beginning of November. These plants carry between five and eleven long, narrow green leaves. The flower itself is relatively small and low growing, and is generally made up of six, tear-shaped petals that surround three crimson red or bright orange stigmas. Although a dramatic shade of lavender is its most familiar shade, these flowers also come in hues of blue and mauve.
Although the saffron flower is a fairly common and easy to grow blossom, a good deal of interest and strange facts surround it. For example, unlike most flowers, common saffron is made up almost entirely of hybrids, as these plants are sterile and do not reseed themselves. They are also considered a terrifically useful bloom. The best known example of this is the use of the stigmas for culinary applications. After the flowers have undergone a very delicate process of dissection, their stigmas are dried in a number of ways – from being doused in olive oil and set in the sun, to being set upon silk or metal sieves and heated until dry. After being cleaned and shipped, they can be used in any number of meals – from rice dishes and seafood, to desserts and sauces. In medicine, these plants are being investigated for their anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. However, they have long been used in folk remedies as a stimulant and aphrodisiac, a sedative and a stomach soother. Over time, the saffron flower was used for more curious endeavors. It was once considered the “great dye,” and was used almost exclusively by religious leaders and political figures. It was also once used as currency in small villages, as it was thought that saffron retained its quality over long periods of time, and thus, people exchanged it for other goods.
In Hinduism, the mere color of this flower’s stigmas are symbolic of deeply religious associations – most notably, the Supreme Being. Throughout the world, though, the saffron flower has developed something of a dual symbolism. Some believe that giving this flower is a plea of mercy – expressing the desire to be handled with care. On the other hand, they are frequently given as an emblem of mirth and joy, and are mostly traded between friends and new lovers.