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Saffron

Introduction

Saffron is a spice that comes from part of the Crocus sativus flower. Saffron is hard to harvest. This makes it a costly spice. It has been used to ease symptoms of depression and boost sexual function. Saffron can be taken as a pill, powder, or extract. It can also be used as a cream or ointment.

Dosages

20 milligrams 1 to 2 times daily

What Research Shows

Likely Effective

  • Depression —likely to ease symptomsB1-B15

May Be Effective

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—may improve visual function A1
  • Alzheimer disease —may reduce cognitive decline C1-C18
  • Dysmenorrhea —may ease pain D1

Not Enough Data to Assess

  • Sexual Dysfunction in Women E1
  • Glaucoma F1
  • Erectile dysfunction G1
  • Mild cognitive impairment H1

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Safety Notes

It is likely safe to use saffron on the skin and to take saffron orally in small doses for a short time, but allergic reactions may happen.I1, I2 Not enough studies have been done to say whether it is safe to use for a long period. It is also not known whether it is safe to take by women who are breastfeeding. Large amounts of saffron during pregnancy should be avoided.

Interactions

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse.

 

References

A. Age-related Macular Degeneration

A1. Broadhead GK, Grigg JR, et al. Saffron therapy for the treatment of mild/moderate age-related macular degeneration: a randomised clinical trial. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2019;257(1):31-40.

B. Alzheimer Disease

B1. Akhondzadeh S, Shafiee Sabet M, et al. 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 Jan;207(4):637-643.

B2. Akhondzadeh S, Sabet MS, et al. Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2010 Oct;35(5):581-588.

B3. Farokhnia M, Shafiee Sabet M, et al. Comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus sativus L. with memantine in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Jul;29(4):351-359.

C. Depression

C1. Moshiri E, Basti AA, et al. Crocus sativus L. (petal) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):607-611.

C2. Dwyer AV, Whitten DL, Hawrelak JA. Herbal medicines, other than St. John's Wort, in the treatment of depression: a systematic review. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Mar;16(1):40-49.

C3. Hausenblas HA, Saha D, et al. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Integr Med. 2013;11(6):377-383.

C4. Shahmansouri N, Farokhnia M, et al. A randomized, double-blind, clinical trial comparing the efficacy and safety of Crocus Sativus L. with fluoxetine for improving mild to moderate depression in post percutaneous coronary intervention patients. J Affect Disord. 2014 Feb;155:216-222.

C5. Yeung WF, Chung KF, et al. A systematic review on the efficacy, safety, and types of Chinese herbal medicine for depression. J Psychiatr Res. 2014 Oct;57:165-175.

C6. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Nov;29(6):517-527.

C7. Talaei A, Hassanpour Moghadam M, et al. Crocin, the main active saffron constituent, as an adjunctive treatment in major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot clinical trial. J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15;174:51-56.

C8. Hausenblas HA, Heekin K, Mutchie HL, Anton S. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on psychological and behavioral outcomes. J Integr Med. 2015 Jul;13(4):231-240.

C9. Hausenblas HA, Heekin K, Mutchie HL, Anton S. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on psychological and behavioral outcomes. J Integr Med. 2015 Jul;13(4):231-240.

C10. Mazidi M, Shemshian M, et al. A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 1;13(2):195-199.

C11. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD. Efficacy of curcumin, and a saffron/curcumin combination for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2017 Jan 1;207:188-196.

C12. Kashani L, Eslatmanesh S, et al S. Comparison of Saffron versus Fluoxetine in Treatment of Mild to Moderate Postpartum Depression: A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2017 Mar;50(2):64-68.

C13. Ghajar A, Neishabouri SM, et al. Crocus sativus L. versus Citalopram in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Anxious Distress: A Double-Blind, Controlled Clinical Trial. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2017 Jul;50(4):152-160.

C14. Tabeshpour J, Sobhani F, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of saffron stigma (Crocus sativus L.) in mothers suffering from mild-to-moderate postpartum depression. Phytomedicine. 2017 Dec 1;36:145-152.

C15. Kashani L, Esalatmanesh S, et al. Efficacy of Crocus sativus (saffron) in treatment of major depressive disorder associated with post-menopausal hot flashes: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2018 Mar;297(3):717-724.

C16. Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, et al. affron(®), a standardised extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018 May;232:349-357.

C17. Yeung KS, Hernandez M, Mao JJ, Haviland I, Gubili J. Herbal medicine for depression and anxiety: A systematic review with assessment of potential psycho-oncologic relevance. Phytother Res. 2018 May;32(5):865-891.

C18. Tóth B, Hegyi P, et al. The Efficacy of Saffron in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Depression: A Meta-analysis. Planta Med. 2019 Jan;85(1):24-31.

D. Dysmenorrhea

D1. Nahid K, Fariborz M, et al. The effect of an Iranian herbal drug on primary dysmenorrhea: a clinical controlled trial. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2009 Sep-Oct;54(5):401-404.

E. Female Sexual Dysfunction

E1. Kashani L, Raisi F, et al. Saffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jan;28(1):54-60.

F. Glaucoma

F1. Jabbarpoor Bonyadi MH, Yazdani S, et al. The ocular hypotensive effect of saffron extract in primary open angle glaucoma: a pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Oct 15;14:399.

G. Male Erectile Dysfunction

G1. Shamsa A, Hosseinzadeh H, et al. Evaluation of Crocus sativus L. (saffron) on male erectile dysfunction: a pilot study. Phytomedicine. 2009 Aug;16(8):690-693.

H. Mild Cognitive Impairment

H1. Tsolaki M, Karathanasi E, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Crocus sativus L. in Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment: One Year Single-Blind Randomized, with Parallel Groups, Clinical Trial. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016 Jul 27;54(1):129-133.

I. Safety

I1. Mazidi M, Shemshian M, et al. A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in the treatment of anxiety and depression. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Jun 1;13(2):195-199.

I2. Tsolaki M, Karathanasi E, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Crocus sativus L. in Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment: One Year Single-Blind Randomized, with Parallel Groups, Clinical Trial. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016 Jul 27;54(1):129-133.

Last reviewed July 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC  Last Updated: 3/30/2020