By Amy Grant
A native of southern Europe and Asia, the saffron crocus is unique among the 75 other crocus species. Its formal name of Crocus sativus is derived from the Latin meaning “cultivated.” And indeed it has a long history of cultivation, dating back to its use by Egyptian physicians in 1600 BC for medicinal purposes. Let’s learn more about saffron crocus harvesting and its uses today.
Saffron Harvest Info
Today, the harvesting of saffron crocus is most often done for its resultant spice of the same name used in cooking, specifically in Spanish Paellas or Arroz con Pollo. One of the most expensive food products in the world, saffron’s outrageous cost is due to the labor intensive process of obtaining the stigma, of which there are only 3 per flower. Saffron harvest info lists the price of saffron at anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per pound depending upon the grade and quality.
When to Pick Saffron
Saffron crocus blooms in the fall over the course of 3 weeks whereupon the saffron crocus harvesting commences. When it’s time to pick saffron, harvesting saffron growers may work up to 19-hour days to carefully reap the blooms and then extract the few stigmas, which are then dried over heat and packaged for sale to international markets. Here’s the mind boggler; it takes 75,000 flowers yielding 225,000 stigmas to create a single pound of saffron!
How to Harvest Saffron
Saffron is grown in Spain, Portugal, France and India, producing fragrant lilac colored flowers about 2 inches long. Despite its pleasant aroma and lovely bloom, the part of the plant that is most desirous is the 3 burnt-orange female organs, called stigmas, which become the resulting spice. So the question is how to harvest saffron stigmas?
Harvesting saffron stigmas is not for the faint of heart and clearly the motivating factor is the extravagant amount of money to be made. Literally, the three tiny and fragile stigmas are plucked from the flower by hand. That’s 225,000 stigmas per pound, by hand, well, with tweezers.
How to Grow Saffron Crocus
Areas ideal for cultivation of saffron crocus average a low 15-18 inches of annual rainfall. If you live in an area of significant precipitation, heavy rains are likely to damage the delicate flowers. However, beyond that saffron crocus are relatively easy to grow and multiply fairly rapidly, it would take about 150-200 bulbs to keep the average family supplied with enough saffron.
Plant the saffron bulbs about 2 inches deep just as you would any crocus. Hardy through winter temps of down to -15 degrees F. but sensitive to soggy soil, water the saffron crocus sparingly, every 2 weeks, to prevent rotting then await the latter part of September and an entire winter of Spanish Paella dishes.
The plants should also be dug up and separated every 3-4 years.