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.” 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, harvesting saffron crocus is most often done for its spice 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 three per flower. Saffron prices range anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per pound (454 g.) depending upon the grade and quality.
When to Pick Saffron
Saffron crocus blooms in the fall over the course of three weeks. This is when the saffron crocus harvesting commences.
When it's time to pick saffron, some 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 (454 g.) of saffron!
How to Harvest Saffron
Saffron is grown in Spain, Portugal, France, and India producing fragrant lilac-colored flowers about 2 inches (5 cm.) long.
Despite its pleasant aroma and lovely bloom, the part of the plant that is most prized is the three 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 (454 g.) by hand, with tweezers.
How to Grow Saffron Crocus
Areas ideal for cultivation of saffron crocus average a low 15 to 18 inches (38-45.5 cm) 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 to 200 bulbs to keep the average family supplied with enough saffron. Plant the saffron bulbs about 2 inches (5 cm) deep just as you would any crocus. Hardy through winter temps of down to -15 degrees F. (-26 C) but sensitive to soggy soil, water the saffron crocus sparingly, every two weeks, to prevent rotting, then wait until the latter part of September and an entire winter of Spanish Paella dishes.
The plants should be dug up and separated every three to four years.
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Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.
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