Sargol Saffron - The Jewel of Persia
Saffron is one of the highly prized spices known since antiquity for its colour, flavour and medicinal properties. It is the dried "stigma" or threads of the flower of the Crocus sativus plant.
It is a bulbous perennial plant that belongs to the family of Iridaceae, in the genus, Crocus, and known botanically as Crocus sativus.
What exactly is Persian (Sargol) Saffron?
Sargol literally translates as "top of the flower" in Persian, and is made up of the red stigmas which have been cut and separated prior to drying.
Saffron has been coveted throughout history, records detailing the use of saffron go back to ancient Egypt and Rome where it was used as a dye, in perfumes, as a drug, as well as for culinary purposes. It reached China in the 7th century and spread through Europe in the Middle Ages.
The town of Saffron Walden, where it was once grown commercially, takes its name from the plant. Today most saffron is imported from Iran (southern Khorasan) and Spain, which are recognised as producing the best quality, but it can also be found in Egypt, Kashmir, Morocco and Turkey.
It has long been the most expensive spice in the world by weight, ten times more costly than vanilla. Why so expensive, you may ask? Due to the amount of labour involved, to produce one ounce of saffron it takes tens of thousands of individual strands, with a cultivation and harvest at dawn or at night (due to its high sensitivity to light) still performed by hand, as it was in ancient times.
The good news is that one or two threads can add taste and a luminous sunshine colour to an entire pot of rice, in both sweet and savoury dishes, and to flavour teas and other drinks.
Now, we'll let you imagine the velvety scent...
However, too much can make food bitter and as the quotation from Culpeper suggests, large quantities of it can be toxic.
'The use of it ought to be moderate and reasonable, for when the dose is too large, it produces a heaviness of the head and sleepiness. Some have fallen into an immoderate convulsive laughter which ended in death.'
Culpeper's The Complete Herbal, 1649
Some of the many researched health benefits of Saffron :
Many herbalists and natural health enthusiasts consider its health benefits to be worth their weight in gold. In fact, saffron has a long history as part of traditional healing. Modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immuno-modulating, and antioxidant-like properties.  
Recent studies have shown the beneficial effects of saffron in depression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and Alzheimer’s Disease.  
Due to the presence of crocetin, it indirectly helps to reduce cholesterol level in the blood and severity of atherosclerosis. 
Saffron helps reduce the risk of heart diseases by strengthening the blood circulatory system. Rich in minerals like thiamin and riboflavin, saffron promotes a healthy heart and prevents different cardiac problems. 
Saffron extract has been shown to be capable of inhibiting and/or retarding the growth of tumours in a variety of experimental models in vivo. A topical application inhibited second-stage skin cancer, and oral administration of saffron extract restricted soft tissue sarcomas and inhibited tumour cell growth in mice. Several studies combined indicated that saffron also may be a promising agent for reducing the side effects from cisplatin (an early, often used cancer drug), including nephrotoxicity (toxicity in the kidneys). 
In another study, saffron was examined for its effects on aluminium toxicity and found to significantly reverse harmful aluminium-induced symptoms, such as memory loss and neurological disorders. Saffron extracts improved lipid peroxidation (important for inhibiting diseases in the body) and glutathione levels, which function in the destruction of free radicals. Scientists concluded that saffron has "neuroprotective potential under toxicity.” 
How to use
The most important rule is "don't use too much" ! A very little bit of saffron goes a long way and if overused becomes overpowering and leaves a bit of pungent aroma.
There are several ways to prepare saffron for use. Consult your recipe for specific recommendations. Basic methods include:
Soak Threads - The threads are soaked in liquid which can be broth or water, then the infusion is added to the dish.
Method: crush threads with your fingers or use a tiny mortar and pestle. Add the saffron to the liquid and soak for 5 - 20 minutes. Add the "tea" to your recipe.
Toast Threads - Many traditional paella recipes recommend toasting the saffron before use.
Method: Carefully toast threads in a medium-hot heavy skillet (cast iron is good) do not allow to burn. Then grind threads into a powder and use as directed in the recipe.
Crumble and Use - Sometimes recipes that use a lot of liquid like soups, or salad dressings just say to crumble the threads and add directly to the dish. Soaking, even for a few minutes works better, provides better distribution of colour and a more robust flavour.
For maximum freshness store saffron in an airtight glass container in a cool, dark place for up to six months. Use Saffron in your Andalusian Paella, French Bouillabaisse, Risotto alla Milanese...you're in for a treat!
With such incomparable properties, Sweet Health will be dedicated to delivering only the highest and finest quality Sargol Saffron, directly supplied from the producers in Iran, fully organic and tested for our respected customers.
 Schmidt M, Betti G, Hensel A. Saffron in phytotherapy: pharmacology and clinical uses. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2007;157:315–319.
 Bathaie SZ, Mousavi SZ. New applications and mechanisms of action of saffron and its important ingredients. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010;50:761–86.
 Akhondzadeh S, Tahmacebi-Pour N, Noorbala AA, Amini H, Fallah-Pour H, Jamshidi AH, Khani M. Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2005;19:148–151.
 Akhondzadeh S, Shafiee Sabet M, Harirchian MH, Togha M, Cheraghmakani H, Razeghi S, Hejazi SS, Yousefi MH, Alimardani R, Jamshidi A, Rezazadeh SA, Yousefi A, Zare F, Moradi A, Vossoughi A. A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2010;207:637–643.
 Basker D, Negbi M. The use of saffron. Econ Bot. 1983;37:228–236.
 Verma SK, Bordia A. Antioxidant property of Saffron in man. Indian J Med Sci. 1998;52:205–207.
 http://ebm.rsmjournals.com/content/227/1/20.full, Cancer Chemopreventive and Tumoricidal Properties of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.)
 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23168242, Investigation of the neuroprotective action of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in aluminum-exposed adult mice through behavioral and neurobiochemical assessment, Dec. 2012.
Sweet Health would like to thank Umm Hurairah Halima for this guest blog article.