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The History Of Saffron

As a medicinal herb and dye, saffron use goes back more than 50,000 years to depictions discovered in prehistoric northwest Iran. Its extensive use and high value has been found consistently throughout history in areas ranging from China to Europe.

From the Sumerians´ use of saffron as a trade good to religious offerings in Persia, saffron began to spread in popularity and geography beginning around the 10th century BC. Alexander the Great used Persian saffron for infusions, cooking and bathing. Phoenicians traded it for use in the treatment of melancholy, while it began being used in Tamil for easing labor pains and religious rites about 2,000 years ago.

Greek history recounts voyages to Cilicia sometime after 1,600 BC, with the goal of seeking out the best saffron for use in perfumes, cosmetics, ointments and offerings.

Egyptians treasured saffron as an aphrodisiac and Cleopatra reportedly used it in her baths to help improve lovemaking.

Saffron was so popular in 14th century Europe that the theft of a single ship carrying saffron sparked the "Saffron War", which lasted 14 weeks, and later in Nuremberg the Safranschou code was enacted which made saffron adulteration punishable by death.

Saffron made it to America by way of Europe and began to be widely cultivated in Pennsylvania by 1730. High demand in the Caribbean spiked the value of saffron to equal that of gold until the War of 1812 when many merchant vessels transporting saffron were destroyed. Pennsylvania Dutch saffron continues to be a specialty trade today.

Throughout its rich and varied history, one thing has remained constant about saffron; it is highly valued, highly sought-after and has found many wondrous uses across the world.

Dirk Schneider

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