Za’faran (saffron) is a term derived from Old Persian and Sanskrit languages and has been spelled so in Shahnameh, the epic of kings. Arabic texts seldom refer to saffron and wherever they speak about it they refer to Persian books from Avicenna and Razi. Saffron’s habitat is in Iran and India and it doesn’t grow in any Arabic country in a natural manner. Cultivation of saffron in Iran began approximately three thousand years ago. It is red, precious, and void of stem and has a bulb. Since saffron grows in deserts it is known as red gold or desert gold. Out of 150 flowers only one gram of saffron is extracted and from approximately 147 thousand fresh saffron flowers only 1 km of dry saffron is extracted. Thanks to its excellent taste, color and perfume saffron is used in various Iranian dishes. It is used in chemistry and medicine too. Due to limited cultivation saffron is a very dear. By producing nearly 100 tons of saffron a year Iran is the foremost producer of this herb and Spain which produces 25 tons of it a year is the second biggest producer in the world. India, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, China, France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Greece although produce 25 tons of saffron and are together they are the third producer of saffron in the world. Saffron’s real habit is the arid deserts south of Khorassan. It is rare herb growing very rigid climates and from ancient times its birthplace has been Iran. Saffron is a medical and industrial herb. Saffron which is the red crest of the herb above the root is light red when harvested but it gradually turns to dark red. Fresh saffron has a lovely perfume and gives special flavor to the food. The main income of the farmers in Khorassan is from saffron which they call ’red gold’. Saffron tree needs water only in November and December and rainwater is enough to irrigate it and many people are engaged in the cultivation of saffron in the country.
Being small in size and light transportation of saffron is not costly and it fetches considerable foreign exchange for the nation. Statistics about cultivation of saffron show that approximately 100 thousand families in Torbat-e Heidariye, Qa’enat, Ferdows, Gonabad, Sarayan, Birjand and Kashmar in Khorassan and Eqlid and Estahban in Fars earn their bread from saffron. Out of 230 tons of saffron produced in the world in a year nearly 170 tons is produced in Khorassan. Laboratory tests conducted in Europe have revealed that saffron reduces fat and cholesterol and increases oxygen in the plasma.
The common people use saffron as tranquilizer, increase the appetite and facilitate food digestion. In the past saffron was used in Germany as tranquilizer and for healing stomachache and asthma. Saffron is believed to relieve depression too.