Why this spice is as effective as some antidepressants

A naturopath talks us through its mood-boosting benefits.

By Sukriti Wahi • 4 years ago • HEALTH & FITNESS, STYLE

With modern technology at our constant disposal, it seems the health and wellness space is always coming up with some new trend or miracle product that promises to change our lives (here’s looking at you, “NASA space suit” body stickers). Every so often, however, one of them actually seems to work – and isn’t modern at all. Cue: Saffron, a spice renowned for its vivid orange hue and a puh-retty exxy price tag.

With numerous research studies espousing the spice’s capacity to effectively combat anxiety and depression as powerfully as some antidepressants, this is one natural alternative worth looking in to. Keen to learn more about its mood-boosting benefits, we spoke to in-house naturopath for Unichi Wellness and Saffronia, Lindsay Braid:

Let’s start off by breaking it down! What exactly is saffron and what makes it so special?

Saffron comes from a vibrant purple flower. The parts we use as a spice and as herbal medicine are the bright crimson stigmas and styles within the flower. Saffronia™ contains 100% hand -harvested saffron. The processors, usually women because their hands are smaller, pick the flowers and separate the stigmata. To achieve one ounce (28.35 g) of dry saffron, it takes 5,200 flowers, with each flower containing only three stigmata.

Why saffron is as effective as some antidepressants

There appear to be quite a few studies indicating the mood-boosting effect of saffron on the body and mind. Can you talk us through the key reasons why saffron is an ideal natural alternative or complement to traditional anxiety or depression medications? 

Experts believe that Saffron was first documented in a 7th century B.C. Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal, last of the great kings of Assyria. Since then, documentation spanning 4,000 years has been uncovered, which details Saffron’s therapeutic use in the treatment of approximately 90 illnesses.

One of the most well-known effects of saffron is its exhilarant and anti-depressant activity which leads to the sense of happiness and laughter. Seyyed Esmaeil Jorjani, one of the most prominent pioneers and scientists of Islamic and Iranian traditional medicine in the 11th and 12th centuries (fourth and 5th centuries A.H.), stated that:

“Saffron is astringent and resolvent and its fragrance can strengthen these two effects. Hence, its action on enlivening the essence of the spirit and inducing happiness is great”.

Modern scientific evidence has also well supported the beneficial impact of saffron stigma and petal extracts as well as crocin in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

Saffron may exert its antidepressant effects via downregulating neuroinflammation (decreasing associated oxidative stress and improving neuronal plasticity and mitochondrial function), as well as correcting HPA axis dysfunction. Although Saffron may exhibit a mild effect on serotonin neurotransmission (investigation into Saffron’s effect on serotonin availability is limited), it is unlikely that this would create any interactive risk with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications.

From all the studies, we can see that Saffron is a well-tolerated preparation. It is non-addictive and doesn’t appear to have the ill side effects we can note in antidepressants, such as lack of libido, dry mouth or weight gain. It doesn’t interact with medications, as opposed to St John’s Wort, which theoretically interacts with the oral contraceptive pill and numerous other medications. Saffron doesn’t appear to have these similar concerns, making it a safe alternative.

Can we get the same mood-boosting benefits from saffron through cooking or is it best taken in supplement form?

No, unfortunately you would need to eat so much to get the same desired effect. As we extract the two constituents we know helps, this allows us to be assured of the potency.

For those suffering from varying forms and degrees of anxiety and depression, how do you know if a saffron supplement is enough for you or if you require more than that?

This is tricky question and it is important to understand anxiety and depression can be quite severe. As this is an over the counter supplement, we always recommend if symptoms persist please talk to your health care provider.

How long after starting regular saffron supplements do people typically start to see an improvement in their mood?

The clinical trials have noted changes with in two weeks, however we can’t take this as gospel, as everyone will always react differently, weather it be a vitamin, a herb or a pharmaceutical. The studies noted, however, that the majority of the participants noted an improvement after four weeks.

Saffron antidepressants

Not all supplements are created equal! What are some signs to look out for to ensure we are picking the best quality saffron supplement and which ones would you recommend?

Country of origin: where does it come from? Spain and Iran are known for producing the world’s best saffron. Is it a patented product? Are the ingredients traceable? The benefit being that, if you know where you supplement comes from, you can be sure of its quality, strength and shelf life. When it comes to price, don’t be swayed by cheap products, saffron is an expensive spice, often you pay for what you get – and there are the limitations on the market!

If you would like to learn more about the mood-boosting benefits of Saffronia or experience it for yourself, click here!

Please see your medical practitioner before commencing any supplements.


affron® a novel saffron extract (Crocus sativus L.) improves mood in healthy adults over 4 weeks in a double-blind, parallel, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a pilot double-blind randomized trial.

Efficacy of curcumin, and a saffron/curcumin combination for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action.

Saffron improves mood in teens: study

Saffron improves the effectiveness of antidepressant medications

Images: iStock



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