According to archaeological evidences, it's been 3000 years, since humans started cultivating saffron. Earlier, the wild variety of saffron called Crocus cartwrightianus was used for cultivation. It was during the late Bronze Age, that the current variety of saffron, called Saffron crocus was developed.
What Exactly is Saffron?
We all know that saffron is a spice, which is derived from the saffron plant. The saffron plant, which is known as saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), belongs to the genus Crocus in the iris family Iridaceae. The spice called saffron, consists of the style and stigma of the flowers of the saffron plant. The style and stigma are parts of the female reproductive system of a flower. A style is a stalk, that has an ovary on one end and the stigma on the other end.
In case of saffron crocus, each flower has three stigmas, which are red or orange in color. These stigmas, along with the styles, are harvested and dried. This dried product is called saffron, which is used for various purposes, especially as a spice. A saffron crocus flower has only three stamens and a style. One kilogram of saffron flowers yield only an ounce of spice. This explains the exorbitant price of saffron. Apart from that, a major part of saffron production is done manually.
As a spice, saffron is mainly used as a coloring agent, and for seasoning. It imparts a golden-yellow color to the food. Apart from that, saffron is also used as a dye, and as a herbal medicine.
Saffron Crocus Care
Growing this plant is beneficial in two ways. It can be an inexpensive way to get saffron spice. Apart from that, they are the first plants to bloom during fall, and produce flowers throughout the season. The lavender-colored flowers can be a beautiful addition to your flower garden.
- These plants can be grown from bulbs or corms. As most of the current varieties are hybrids, you may not get seeds of this plant. Purchase corms from reputed sellers only.
- Ensure that what you buy is a saffron crocus variety, like Crocus sativus cashmirianus. Autumn meadow crocuses too look like saffron.
- The right time for planting is late spring or early summer. You may also plant the corms during the onset of fall. In that case, the corms will sprout the following spring only.
- Prepare the soil with organic material, like compost, leaves, or grass clippings. Saffron crocus plants need full sun and well-drained soil, for a healthy growth. The soil must not get soggy, and the plants must be protected from wind.
- Once you are ready with the location of planting, plant the corms in holes, which are at least four inches in depth. Always remember to plant these corms with their roots facing downwards. Keep a distance of six inches between the holes.
- If the location is likely to be frequented by rodents, it will be better to cover the area with a mesh enclosure, so that your corms are not eaten by these animals.
- During summer, the soil must be dry, as these plants become dormant in this season. The leaves and flowers develop during fall; and during this season, you have to keep the soil moist (not soggy) with occasional watering.
- The flowering period may last for one month, and during this time, a single application of liquid fertilizer is recommended. Continue with occasional watering till the onset of spring, as the leaves start withering during this time.
- During cold climate, dig out the corms; and store them in a cool, dark place. Plant these corms again during late spring or early summer.