Short History of Saffron

Author: Mohammad Hasan Abrishami

Compiler: Fereshteh Soltani

Saffron plant unlike other plants blossom in fall. Since beautiful wild saffron flowers draw indigenous attention in Medes ancient land in Zagros Mountains and in Alvand (Arvand) hillside, the field for recognition saffron crocus, its aroma and color usage and its stalk properties and the motivation for cultivation of this plant has been provided. Discussion about short history of saffron in Iran, the original name of saffron, the origin of the plant, first planting positions, the most ancient uses and the oldest consumers of saffron is very difficult and complicated. Since Iranian sources of Medes and Achaemenid Empire era was destroyed in Alexander attack and continuing destruction after that, only some inscriptions, petroglyphs and pictographs has left behind. However, it is possible to discuss and research about saffron history, origin, planting areas and its usages according to these petroglyphs and pictographs and also inserted subjects in valuable art works of Greek writers and ancient Rome about Iran and available sources of Pahlavi scripts from Sasanian era and especially ancient Islamic texts and other evidence and documentation. The oldest human written documents available are thousands of written plaque to Cuneiform scripts, which its discovering process began in 1848 AD in Mesopotamia or current Iraq.

Name of some plants are written on these tablets.

According to historical records “Some few Sumerian words are still using in English language, such as Cane and Saffron”. During a general discussion of the crops that the Sumerian knew and named 250 plants in their tablets, George Sarton says: Some names that we use these days are derived from Sumerian names. But we can’t be sure people of Assyrian and us and Sumerians mean the same plants from these names.

We mention names of couple of plants here and write its cuneiform name in brackets: Cassia (Kasu), Chicory (Kurku).

Sumerian, were pioneers in agriculture, industry and trade who went to Mesopotamia from a mountainous region about 6000 years ago and built the foundations of their civilization and empire. Some archaeologists such as Lucas guessed: Iran could be the first residence of Sumerian. Sumerian may have been the first native of Damavand and Mazandaran mountainous region who were known as “demon”, because of their amazing innovations and were defeated by Iran mythological princes known as Pishdadian, including Jamshid and at last they forced to immigrate to Mesopotamia from mountainous region.

Iran legendary history contains of demons and Pishdadian stories quoted in Avestan, Pahlavi sources and Islam ancient texts which has been investigated and analyzed. In these cases, recognition of fragrant plants and breeding them was actions of Pishdadian kings. For example it is written in Nowrouznameh that “ Jamshid defeated demons and gained silk, musk, amber, camphor and saffron and celebrated this day and named it Nowrouz.

Hamadan and Halvan , two ancient cities, are the oldest cities and world civilization center in Medes land where wild saffron grow in its hillside.

Historical documentation and evidence suggests that Achaemenid (the government of 331 - 536 BC) were the consumer of saffron and were familiar with its food and medical properties. According to Alexander’s resources about warfare techniques, dietary program and 63 kinds of kings and Achaemenid court consumed foodstuffs, with its amount carved on bronze column. In this contents, daily consumed saffron of Achaemenid court was 498 grams. Ferdinand Justi has provided a list of Darius all kinds of consumed foods including Taftouns and saffron soft pollen which provided by 3 kinds of Egypt wheat and 3 kinds of barely and black wheat.

Pliny the Elder (Roman naturalist 23-79 AD) noted that: kings and Magicians used a strange cream which was made of one kind of siliceous plant mixed by saffron and body fat of lion for beauty and skin softness (body skin). Using of saffron cosmetic oil was usual in Parts era and Part well-dressed ladies were benefitted by that.

In ancient Iran for fresh up the palaces air, saffron were being used beside Chondro as fumigation.

In Sassanian era saffron were used for dying cloth fibers (wool, cotton, silk and hair) in addition to the food and medical and cosmetic usages.