Even if saffron is an expensive spice known as red gold, growing it is however very simple and accessible to anyone. Its price depends on the intense labour needed to harvest it, not because it is difficult to grow.
Saffron can grow nearly anywhere in the world. The kind of soil is far more important than the climate of the region where one wants to grow it.
As they are fall-blooming crocus, you will plant them in the fall, but they will probably not bloom the year you plant them. Instead, you will see foliage in the spring, which will die back, and saffron flowers the following fall.
Saffron is a crocus with personality. It defies the traditional gardening season by lying dormant all summer, and then, when the rest of the garden is turning black with frost, it pushes its purple blossoms up through the mulch to announce its dramatic presence.
Each blossom offers up to three scarlet stigmas, the female reproductive organs, to be picked for the next stew or salad or dessert.
Grow & Care
- Find a large container and fill it with a commercial potting mix that drains well. Saffron crocuses will not thrive in water logged soils.
- Site your bulbs where they will get full day sun or very light shade. Saffron crocuses prefer average amounts of moisture in the spring but do best dry sites in the summer when they are dormant. You may want to move your containers seasonally to accommodate this.
- Dig holes and plant the crocus bulbs 3-4" deep and 2-3" apart. The bulbs are small and rounded, with slight pointed tops - plant with the points facing upwards.
- After planting, water your bulbs well, thoroughly soaking the area. Roots will form in the autumn. Foliage will develop in the spring and flowers will follow in late summer through fall. While your bulbs may bloom the first season, don’t be concerned if they bloom for the first time next fall.
- When in bloom feel free to trim the colorful stamens for cooking and drying for later use. This will not hurt the plants.
- After blooming has finished for the season leave the foliage in place; don’t cut it off. The leaves will gather sunlight, create food through photosynthesis and strengthen the bulbs for the future. Water as needed during active growth periods; about 1" of moisture per week is a good estimate.
- If, late in the season, the leaves yellow and die back, the foliage may be removed at this point. Your bulbs will rest for a few months before beginning the next growing cycle. In warmest areas the foliage may stay green until mid spring when it will yellow and die back. When leaves are absent and the bulbs are dormant, withhold water.
- Flowering time is autumn. Stigmas must be harvested straight after the flowers open; each flower will only produce 3 stigmas and each saffron crocus bulb will only produce 1 flower.
- The flower stigmas are the world’s costliest spice. About 50 - 60 saffron flowers are required to produce about 1 tablespoon of saffron spice.
- After harvesting, dry the stigmas in a dry, sheltered spot for 3-5 days; store in an airtight container.
- Saffron’s aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet.
- Confectioneries and liquors also often include saffron.
- Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery.
- It is used for religious purposes in India, and is widely used in cooking in many cuisines.