Crocus sativus (saffron) has numerous historical uses that date back over three millennia. From ancient Egypt, to the Greco-Romans, the phytotherapeutic actions of saffron have been sought out across time and space. Indeed, even the etymology of ‘phyto’, which means ‘of a plant’ or ‘relating to plants’, is derived from the Greek root ‘phuein’—’come into being’—and ‘phuton’—’a plant’. Therefore, the phytochemistry and phytotherapeutic uses of a plant describe the chemical compounds that are found in the plant (primary and secondary metabolites), as well as the medicinal applications on the human body. As of 2019, and for those who would like a more extensive report on the phytochemistry of C. sativus and other C. spp., see (Mykhailenko et al.). Below is a brief literature review on the general phytochemistry and phytotherapeutic uses of saffron petals.

Why Saffron Petals?

     Saffron petals have anti-oxidative qualities from rich sources of carotenoids and flavonoids and minor traces of vitamin E. According to Zeka et al., kaempferol was found at a concentration of 126mg/g dry weight of saffron petals in pale green methanolic extracts (2015). In the same study by Zeka and colleagues, crocetin was also found to be concentrated in the petals of C. sativus at 6.4mg/g dry weight. Of the 164 phytochemicals reviewed in the Crocus genus by Mykhailenko et al., potential phytotherapeutic compounds were found in every part of the plant from C. sativus (2019). The petals, stamen, stigma filaments, pollen, and even the shoots, as well as corms from the saffron plant could be applied in myriad uses.

     Current chokeholds on the literature with regards to any phytotherapeutic study investigating the medicinal application of saffron, saffron petals, or any other derivative is the epidemiological variability (Abdullaev, 2007). The vast majority of studies investigating the phytotherapeutic uses of saffron on mental, endocrine, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive, ocular and urologic systems have been done in Iran, India, or other far-eastern countries, and their sub-populations. From the micro-pathogenic, to the macro-climatic differences, these population samples are likely to face different health ailments, and cultural, political-economic, and environmental rituals that can produce population-scale differences in the flora of the gut microbiome—among other health, genetic, and epigenetic variations—from that of Western population samples. According to Howes et al., crocin typically has poor intestinal absorption, tending to be hydrolyzed into crocetin in the gut—thus, research efforts should switch focus to the mechanistic effects of crocetin (2019). Additionally, trans-crocetin has been demonstrated to pass through the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and is readily bioavailable, as indicative by fast absorption and detection in plasma after oral administration to humans (Hashemi & Hosseinzadeh, 2019).

     The phytotherapeutic use of saffron petals for mild to moderate depression has been studied in a few trials. Moshiri et al. observed significant differences between the use of 30 mg of dry petal extract and placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate depression (2006). In Basti et al., the observed results showed equal efficacy in the treatment of mild to moderate depression with 15mg dry petal and 0.30-0.35mg safranal, when contrasted to 10mg fluoxetine treatment (2007). The limitations observed were: (1) short trial duration, (2) lack of crossover treatments, (3) low population samples (n), (4) neglect of follow-up assessments after trials, (5) non-standardized doses being investigated, which may be attributed to phytochemical concentrations that are influenced by the process of dehydration—among other agronomic factors, (6) lack of mechanistic knowledge surrounding biological active ingredients, and (7) molecular mechanisms involved in the effects of saffron plant extracts on humans. These shortcomings are unfortunately representative of a larger trend within the clinical trials that have been conducted on saffron. Other reviews have further echoed similar limitations in the literature (Abdullaev, 2007; Melnyk et al., 2010).


     Nonetheless, the traditional uses of saffron, coupled by the minimal contraindications found in the pharmacological and toxicological literature, warrant further research into the clinical efficacy of the plant. Saffron dosage is usually less than 200mg for phytotherapeutic uses, with an estimated lethal dose of 10-20g. The latter is well above any utilized dosage in practice (Moshiri et al., 2006). While we cannot translate this hormetic response (dose-dependent response) to saffron petals, it may help serve as a baseline for further investigations. Novel products that can integrate the “waste” (“bio-waste”, or, as we prefer to frame it, “bio-residuals”) produced in the separation of stigma filaments from petals and stamen may be considered an untapped source of value and return on investment (ROI) for saffron growers. Lastly, the growing interest and market size of the natural supplements and herbal products market is at an ideal flux to catalyze capital investment in collaborative projects and research programs, which can help standardize the volatile field of saffron production, development, and consumption of all plant parts.


Abdullaev, F. (2007). Biological properties and medicinal use of saffron (Crocus Sativus L.). Acta Horticulturae, (739), 339–345. http://dx.doi.org.10.17660/actahortic.2007.739.44

Basti, A. A., Moshiri, E., Noorbala, A.-A., Jamshidi, A.-H., Abbasi, S. H., & Akhondzadeh, S. (2007). Comparison of petal of Crocus sativus L. and fluoxetine in the treatment of depressed outpatients: A pilot double-blind randomized trial. Progress in Neuro- Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 31(2), 439–442. http://dx.doi.org.10.1016/j.pnpbp.2006.11.010

Hadizadeh, F., Khalili, N., Hosseinzadeh, H., & Aldine, R. K. (2003). Kaempferol from saffron petals. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceuitical Research, 2(4), 252–252. http://dx.doi.org.10.22037/ijpr.2010.66

Hashemi, M., & Hosseinzadeh, H. (2019). A comprehensive review on biological activities and toxicology of crocetin. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 130, 44–60. http://dx.doi.org.10.1016/j.fct.2019.05.017

Howes, M. J. R., Perry, N. S., Vásquez‐Londoño, C., & Perry, E. K. (2019). Role of phytochemicals as nutraceuticals for cognitive functions affected in ageing. British Journal of Pharmacology. http://dx.doi.org.10.1111/bph.14898

Li, C.-Y., Lee, E.-J., & Wu, T.-S. (2004). Antityrosinase principles and constituents of the petals of Crocus sativus. Journal of Natural Products, 67(3), 437–440. http://dx.doi.org.10.1021/np0302854

Melnyk, J. P., Wang, S., & Marcone, M. F. (2010). Chemical and biological properties of the worlds most expensive spice: Saffron. Food Research International, 43(8), 1981–1989. http://dx.doi.org.10.1016/j.foodres.2010.07.033

Moshiri, E., Basti, A. A., Noorbala, A.-A., Jamshidi, A.-H., Abbasi, S. H., & Akhondzadeh, S. (2006). Crocus sativus L. (petal) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine, 13, 607–611. http://dx.doi.org.10.1016/j.phymed.2006.08.006

Mykhailenko, O., Kovalyov, V., Goryacha, O., Ivanauskas, L., & Georgiyants, V. (2019). Biologically active compounds and pharmacological activities of species of the genus Crocus: A review. Phytochemistry, 162, 56–89.http://dx.doi.org.10.1016/j.phytochem.2019.02.004

Zeka, K., Ruparelia, K. C., Continenza, M. A., Stagos, D., Vegliò, F., & Arroo, R. R. (2015). Petals of Crocus sativus L. as a potential source of the antioxidants crocin and kaempferol. Fitoterapia, 107, 128–134. http://dx.doi.org.10.1016/j.fitote.2015.05.014


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