A group of saffron blooms

WHAT IS SAFFRON ?

Saffron is a spice. It comprises part of the flower of the lily Crocus sativus.

Many legends and histories have attached to saffron over the centuries, and it remains the most expensive of all the spices, treasured for its fragrance, taste and smell. But, in botanical terms, its description is simple - the three red stigmata of the lily flower are collected by hand, and carefully dried and processed.

The stigmata from ~150 flowers make a gram of saffron. The labour-intensiveness of the harvest is a major part of its costliness.

Saffron is valued as a pigment (saffron robes), as a spice (saffron rice) and as a traditional medicine. Gram for gram, saffron is the most anti-oxidant plan known. And scientists believe that its protective effect on tissues is enhanced by the ability of its bioactive chemicals to regulate gene expression in tissues under stress.

So saffron is several things:

* A spice for the gourmet

* A pigment

* A component of traditional medicine

* A plant with a high content of natural anti-oxidants

* A potential treatment for still intractable disease