The botanical name of saffron plant is saffron crocus/crocus sativus. It is a species that belongs to the family Iridaceae. It is a perennial flowering plant and grows in very few parts of the world. It is a spice that is obtained by drying the stigma of the flowers of this plant.
It is an autumn flowering plant that is native to Southwest Asia. Saffron is a thread-like spice that is reddish-orange in color, has a bitter taste, and a sweet smell. These threads have a typical hay-like fragrance due to their chemical composition. They contain a dye which imprints a yellowish-golden color when used in cooking.
How to Grow Saffron
To obtain one pound of saffron, one needs to have approximately 80000 flowers. You need 50 to 60 saffron flowers to yield one tablespoon of saffron. And, a pound of saffron can cost anywhere between $500 to $5000. So, it would be safe to say that, growing the plant is an inexpensive way of enjoying the benefits of this valuable spice.
Saffron is one of the first bloomers of spring, that blooms even during fall. It grows on a bulb like part called 'corm'. The plant has narrow leaves with purple-colored lily-like flower. One corm produces one flower and each flower has three stigmas, from which saffron is derived. Growing it is easy, but you need patience. The process is explained ahead.
Get the Corms
The first thing is to get the saffron crocus corms. These are hard to find in nurseries and garden stores. You can easily buy them online from a reputable online nursery. Ensure that the corms are not damaged and have no fungal growth on them. These corms do not remain fresh for longer time. Hence, you need to plant them as soon as they are delivered to you.
Find the Location
Zones six through nine are favorable to plant saffron. These need a lot of sunlight and well-drained soil. They can grow in partial shade. The plant can rot in a swampy, moist location. Ensure that the location is not windy. As the plant needs rich soil, prepare the soil in advance before planting the corms. To enrich the soil, you may use organic compost.
Planting the Corms
You should ideally plant the saffron crocus either in late spring or early summer. Planting it in hot summer yields the best harvest. When you obtain the corms, dig holes in the ground that are 3 to 4 inches in height and keep a distance of 6 inches between two holes. Place the corms in these holes and protect them with mesh enclosures.
Caring for the Plant
It requires very less care once it is planted. You can fertilize the plants once a year and see that you keep them dry in summer and moist in fall. The flowers last for about 3 weeks after blooming. A good saffron flower can blossom to a height of 4 to 5 inches with long red stigmas.
After that, the plant bears long green leaves that sustain for 9 to 12 months. You will obtain corms from the mother plants. You can dig up and divide these baby corms in summer and plant them in some other location.
To harvest saffron, you need to pick out those long red stigmas from the saffron flowers. You should ideally harvest the flowers in the morning, when they bloom completely. Remove them carefully with tweezers and dry them in a warm and dark place for at least 3 days. Once they dry completely, store them in an air-tight container.
The plant is easy to care for, and requires less maintenance. But, you need to ensure that you are planting it in the appropriate season.