Saffron, a well known spice used to give a unique flavor and a vivid yellow color to many dishes has been used for centuries in traditional medical systems to treat depression and other illnesses. Recently a number of clinical trials have shown that this spice is as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
The spice saffron is a yellow powder derived from the stigmata (styles) of the flowering bulb Crocus sativa . It is cultivated on a commercial basis primarily in Iran and to a lesser extent in India, Spain and a few other countries. Prior to the advent of cheaper, synthetic food colorings, saffron was also grown in other European countries including England.
Although several other spices have demonstrated the potential to prevent and treat several neurological diseases saffron is the first to be tested as a treatment of depression in clinical trials.
The recent clinical studies on patients with depression were conducted by doctors at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. The double-blind, placebo controlled trials compared the effects of 30 mg per day of saffron powder to those of normal doses of two common anti-depressant drugs, fluoxetine and imipramine. In all three clinical trials they found that saffron was at least as effective as these two commonly used anti-depressant drugs in combating mild to moderate depression.
This latest research shows that we have yet another spice that can help with a neurological illness – in this case, depression. Depression affects all age groups but increases in incidence with age. In other words we can include it with other diseases associated with the aging process; such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, cancer and others.
There is some scientific evidence that saffron, like many other other spices, may also help to prevent and treat certain cancers. Saffron contains the compound safranal and many antioxidants such as carotenoids and other compounds common to other spices that have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.
Countless studies have shown that spices can help prevent and treat most age related diseases. To a large extent it is those spice-based compounds responsible for their strong colors and flavors that protect us against many of the underlying disease processes common to these conditions.
Humans evolved eating strongly colored, intensely flavored, bitter, sour, "spicy" foods. Therefore it should come as no surprise to us that it is primarily in spices that a vast repository of therapeutic phytonutrients exists to help us combat depression and other neurological and degenerative diseases.
If we add more spices such as saffron to our meals we will not only be happier with the enhanced flavor but the compounds in these tasty additives should also put more zest into our day and help us to avoid a visit to the psychotherapist.