Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and it may have benefits as an antidepressant. Discover how it can be used.

Saffron, scientifically known as Crocus sativus L., is an herb that serves as a spice and medicine, with a history of being used as an antidepressant. You can find it in mountainous regions throughout:

  • Asia Minor
  • Greece
  • Western Asia
  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • India

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world because harvesting it requires properly plucking a stigma from the flowers, and each flower only produces a small amount. The harvesting process directly impacts the variation and quality level of the saffron, affecting how well it helps with ailments.

Saffron was used for decades in traditional Chinese medicine. It was used as pain relief during the 16th to 19th centuries and was once used for dying tunics. Now, saffron for depression is becoming popular again, and research supports its benefits.

Research indicates that saffron may help with symptoms of depression.

Saffron can have an antidepressant effect by boosting brain chemicals. The research mentioned above suggests saffron impacts serotonin and may help it stay in your brain longer, working similarly to antidepressant medications.

According to a 2022 review, crocin, which is found in saffron, may have antidepressant effects by impacting:

  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
  • nerve growth factor
  • cyclic-AMP response element binding (CREB) protein

Saffron also contains crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal, other bioactive compounds that ease symptoms.

BDNF levels are often low when someone has depression. Increasing BDNF is a common way to treat depression, and antidepressants are often an intervention used to do so. Using saffron to enhance BDNF expression offers a natural alternative.

The CREB protein contributes to gene regulation involved with depression pathophysiology. Increasing this protein activity may improve neural plasticity, resulting in fewer symptoms of depression.

The proper dosage depends on body size, but 30 mg per day can have positive results. Discussing it with your doctor is the best option to know which dosage to start with. You can split your dose, taking equal amounts two or three times daily, and you can have it any time of day.

How long it takes for saffron to relieve depression symptoms varies for everyone, but experts suggest you should notice results 4 to 6 weeks after you start supplementing.

Aside from helping with depression, saffron has other health benefits, including:

Contains essential vitamins and minerals

The saffron stigma contains many essential nutrients, including:

  • carbohydrates
  • minerals
  • mucilage
  • vitamin C
  • oil-soluble pigments

Has compounds with pharmacological activities

Saffron has compounds with pharmacological activities, including tannins, anthocyanins, and flavonoids. These compounds have been shown to help with depression and the following pharmacological activities:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • lowering blood pressure
  • relieving stomach aches
  • alleviating symptoms of premenstrual syndrome

Helps prevent learning impairment due to chronic-induced stress

Saffron can help prevent memory and spatial learning impairment that occurs from chronic-induced stress. Its antioxidant properties work to alleviate the impairment that often occurs from oxidative stress.

Has powerful antioxidants

The antioxidants in saffron help protect you from free radicals and oxidative stress. It can help lower your cancer risk and improve the chances of treatment working.

Increased libido

Research shows that saffron can help increase sex drive and sexual function. Plus, it has a positive impact on erectile dysfunction in men and increases vaginal lubrication in women.

Promotes weight loss

Experts from a small 2017 study indicate that saffron can help people reduce their body mass index (BMI). It also helps with decreasing total fat mass and waist circumference. Another way it promotes weight loss is by reducing appetite.

Plant extracts, including saffron, are becoming more appealing to those experiencing depression. This is because they can produce positive results with fewer side effects than prescription medication.

There are minimal side effects, but taking too much can be toxic, even causing miscarriages in pregnant people.

Sometimes saffron powder is mixed with the following to reduce costs:

If you find a low-priced version, it likely has other ingredients, meaning it won’t work as well as an unadulterated product.

There are various ways to incorporate saffron into your diet, including in food, drinks, and supplements. Here’s how you can use saffron for depression:

Add it to your food

Sprinkling saffron over your food provides a unique flavor that goes well on rice dishes, stews, and curries. You only have to use a tiny amount to get enough to taste it and reap the benefits.

Soaking the saffron threads in hot water is one of the best ways to get a deep, rich flavor, or you can buy it in powdered form. However, you do not have to soak the threads in water ahead of time if the dish you’re adding it to already calls for quite a bit of liquid and requires simmering time.

Drink saffron tea

Crumble saffron stamens into a cup and pour warm water over them. You can use boiled water, but let it cool a little before adding it to get the best results. The tea will turn orange after 15 minutes of steeping, and you can drink it or use it in a recipe.

Take a supplement

Saffron supplements usually contain powdered stigmas inside capsules that you take orally. If you choose a supplement, consider high quality variations to ensure it’s not mixed with other ingredients.

Saffron may work as an antidepressant thanks to its antioxidant compounds and pharmacological activities.

It’s an expensive herb, but you don’t have to use much of it to reap the benefits. While more research is necessary, it may be worth adding to your diet or discussing the supplement with your doctor.