history of saffron and origin of the spice
Written by Vahid Epagloo, Food Consultant Updated:

The History of Saffron

The history of saffron crocus is not entirely documented. Saffron is cultivated chiefly in Iran but is also grown in Spain, France, Italy (on the lower spurs of the Apennines Range), and parts of India.

You may use saffron as a spice, and you may hear it as a golden or sunshine spice, or even red gold. All these names showed that this spice has a great history. This spice has been travelling through the Silk Road from Asia to Europe.

The Origin of Saffron Crocus in Iran

The purple flower is called Crocus Sativus first found near two mountains in Iran, Alvand and Zagros. It was in 708 to 550 BC during the reign of the Media. There is not exact information about the using method of this spice that time.

Ancients Persia has been given this luxuries spice as a very luxurious gift. They even give it as a gift in wedding ceremonies. Due to the great aroma of saffron in the old days it has been used to change the scent of dead bodies.

saffron in ancient Persia and Iran

During 550 to 330 BC, this spice was used with cinnamon and cardamom as a drug for mood improvement. The royal recipes showed 1 kg of this spice is used daily to make bread.

The Parthian and Sassan Empire started to export saffron from the Silk Road to China, India, Rome and Greece. In these new destinations red gold has been used to make royal perfume and facial oil for the royal family.

You probably see the chessboard, Sassan reign used saffron to color some kind of paper to make chessboard and play on it.

Saffron in ancient Egypt

During 3100 BC to 476 AD red gold has been used as an effective medicine. It was a great treatment for many diseases like vision and urinary system problems.

It is also said that Cleopatra, known as the most beautiful queen all around the word, was taking a bath with saffron and milk every day.

history of saffron in Egypt

Today experts believe that saffron could improve the health of hair and skin. There are lots of make up producers who use this golden spice in their products, especially hair and skin masks.

The expansion of saffron around the world

This fantastic spice has been cultivated for a long time in Iran and Kashmir. The world believes that it is native to Mediterranean area, Asia Minor and Iran. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization Iran produces 85 percent of the whole saffron of the world.

In using saffron first thing that could get attention is its aroma. That is why in history most of its using gets back to its aroma. The Rome were sprinkled the streets when Nero has been entered the city.  In Rome and Greece halls, courts, theaters and baths saffron has been used as a lux perfume.

The age of red gold is as old as time. In the Minoan era it was used to dye women clothes. Also, they used it in making lipsticks.

From historical to modern use of Saffron

Even in the past, people believed that saffron is not just a spice. It has been used to treat every disease. Traditional healers claim that it can treat everything from headache to cardio problems. They used it as a medicine and because of its treatment benefits herbal experts continue to prescribe it.

Nowadays, scientists start to test its benefits and they find this magical spice full of antioxidants. In some cases like depression and anxiety, the tests prove that it can treat or help patients. There are saffron tablets for anti-depression that doctors prescribe for their patients. However, its effect on cardiovascular problems and cancer are still testing.

History of Saffron as a dye and perfume

In the old days, this golden spice used to dye many things like silk or court inks. Today the high price that it has, and finding new formula for cheap and safe artificial colors, led people to stop using it in this way.

As mentioned above, saffron is used as an old perfume because of its unique aroma. Over many years, make up manufacturers used it to produce different kind of perfumes.

saffron history as dye and perfume

From the past to today, it is a very popular and magical spice. It was expensive in the past and almost royal family and wealthy people could use it. Today it is expensive but it’s not exclusive to especial community.

The historical journey and mythology of Saffron

Saffron was cultivated in Iran and Kashmir. By the merchants it was travel through the Silk Road lands. Those days there were no refrigerators; people need spices to store their foods. This fragrant spice could help a lot. There are no evident how it is cultivated in Europe and other countries. In Chines material media mentioned that this spice has been introduced to Cathay by the Mongol. May be that was after The Mongol attacked Iran.

English Leech book mentioned that about 961 Arabs have been cultivating the saffron in Spain.


Saffron has been used and will use as a spice and medicine. It has especial and unique properties that yet unknown and are under experiments. No one knows who first cultivate this magical spice, but the whole world is thankful for it.

Frequently asked questions

What is the origin of saffron crocus?

There is no evidence about this. We know that it is found in Iran many years ago.

what are the uses of saffron through out history?

It has been used as a spice, dye, perfume and medicine.

did Cleopatra use saffron?

Yes, it has been said that she took a bath of saffron and milk every day.

Is there any book about history of saffron?

No, there are books and articles about it, but over the history of saffron, no.