cultivated stigmas crocus colour town
SAFFRON (Arab. zafarcin) is manufactured from the dried stigmas and part of the style of the saffron crocus, a cultivated form of Crocus sativus, L., the precise origin of which is unknown ; for, though some of the wild forms (var. Thomasii, Cartwrightianus) are also employed for the manufacture of saffron, they differ in character from the cultivated type and are somewhat restrictel in geographical range, while the cultivated form extends with little or no change through nearly ninety degrees of ongitude (Spain to Kashmir) and twenty-five degrees of It titude (England to Persia). It is invariably sterile, tuless artificially fertilized with the pollen of some of the wild varieties. The purple flower, which blooms late in autumn, is very similar to that of the common spring crocus, and the stigmas, which are protruded from the perianth, are of a characteristic orange-red colour. The Egyptians, though acquainted with the bastard safflower (see preceding article), do not seem to have possessed saffron ; but it is named in Canticles iv. 14 among other sweet-smelling herbs. It is also repeatedly mentioned (KpOKos) by Homer, Hippocrates, and other Greek writers ; and the word " crocodile " was long supposed to have been derived from KpOKos and SetA.63, whence we have such stories as that "the crocodile's tears are never true save when he is forced where saffron groweth " (Fuller's Wo'rthies). It has long been cultivated in Persia and Kashmir, and is supposed to have been introduced into China by the Mongol invasion. It is mentioned in the Chinese materia medics (Pun tsam, 1552-78). The chief seat of cultivation in early times, however, was the town of Corycus (modern Korghoz) in Cilicia, and from this central point of distribution it may not improbably have spread east and west. According to Hehn, the town derived its name from the crocus ; Reymond, on the other hand, with more probability, holds that the name of the drug arose from that of the town. It was cultivated by the Arabs in Spain about 961, and is mentioned in an English leech-book of the 10th century, but seems to have disappeared from western Europe till reintroduced by the crusaders. According to Hakluyt, it was brought into England from Tripoli by a pilgrim, who hid a stolen corm in the hollow of his staff. It was especially cultivated near Hinton in Cambridgeshire and in Essex at Saffron Walden (i.e., Saffron Woods, not Saffron Walled-in, as the canting crest of the town would imply), its cultivators being called " crokers." This industry, though very important in the 15th century, when English saffron commanded the highest prices on the Continent, appears to have died out about 1768.
Saffron was used as an ingredient in many of the complicated medicines of early times. According to Gerard "the moderate use of it is good for the head and maketh the sences more quicke and lively. It shaketh off heavie and drowsy sleep and maketh a man mery." It appears to be really a stimulant and antispasmodic, though its powers are slight. It is scarcely ever employed by modern pharmacists unless for the mere coloration of other tinctures, or at most as a cordial adjunct to other medicines. That it was very largely used in cookery is evidenced by many writers; thus Laurenbergius (Apparatus Plantarum, 1632) makes the large assertion "In re familiare vix ullus est telluris habitatus angulus ubi non sit croci quotidiana usurpatio aspersi vel incocti cibis." The Chinese used also to employ it largely, and the Persians and Spaniards still mix it with their rice. As a perfume it was strewn in Greek halls, courts, and theatres, and in the Roman baths. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero made his entry into the city.
It was, however, mainly used as a dye. It was a royal colour in early Greek times, though afterwards perhaps from its abundant use in the baths, and as a scented salve, it was especially appropriated by the hetairfe. In ancient Ireland a king's mantle was dyed with saffron, and even down to the 17th century the " lein-croich," or saffron-dyed shirt, was worn by persons of rank in the Hebrides. In medireval illumination it furnished, as a glaze upon burnished tinfoil, a cheap and effective substitute for gold. The sacred spot )111 the forehead of a Hindu pundit is also partly composed of it. Its main use in England was to colour pastry a id confectionery, - hence "I must have saffron to colon the Warden pies" (Winter's Tale, act iv. se. i.), - and it is still often added to butter and cheese. One grain of sz ffron rubbed to powder with sugar and a little water imp tits a distinctly yellow tint to ten gallons of water. Thi, colouring power is due to the presence of poly-chlorite, a substance whose chemical formula appears to be C48116,018, and which may be obtained by treating saffron with ether, and afterwards exhausting with water. Under acids it yields the following reaction - C4sH600p; +1150 =2(0,514006)+ C1011140 + CoH„06.
Polychlonte. Cromn. Essential oil. Sugar.
Crocin, according to Watts, Did. of Chem., has a composition of C291-142015 or C58H42030. This crocin is a red colouring matter, and it is surmised that the red colour of the stigmas is due to this reaction taking place in nature.
At present saffron is chiefly cultivated in Spain, France, Sicily, on the lower spurs of the Apennines, and in Persia and Kashmir. The ground has to be thoroughly cleared of stones, manured, and trenched, and the corms are planted in ridges. The flowers are gathered at the end of October, in the early morning, just when they are beginning to open after the night. The stigmas and a part of the style are carefully picked out, and the wet saffron is then scattered on sheets of paper to a depth of 2 or 3 inches ; over this a cloth is laid, and next a board with a heavy weight. A strong heat is applied for about two hours so as to make the saffron "sweat," and a gentler temperature for a further period of twenty-four hours, the cake being turned every hour so that every part is thoroughly dried. It is calculated that the stigmas of about 4300 flowers are required to give an ounce of saffron ; but the experiments of Chappellier indicate a possibility of greatly increasing the yield by the cultivation of monstrous forms.
The drug has naturally always been liable to great adulteration in site of penalties, the seventy of which suggests the surviving tradition of its sacred character. Thus in Nuremberg a regular saffron inspection was held, and in the 15th century we read of men being burned in the market-place along with their adulterated saffron, U.hile on another occasion three persons convicted of the same crime were buried alive. Grease and butter are still very frequently mixed with the cake and shreds of beef dipped in saffron water are also used. Good saffron is distinguished by its deep orange-red colour ; if it is light yellow or blackish, it is bad or too old. It should also have a peculiar and rather powerful odour, and a bitter pungent taste. If oily it is probably adulterated with butter or grease.
See Fluckiger and Hanbury, Pharmaeographia, and Maw, Monograph of Its genus Crocus, upon which the preceding account is essentially based ; also Pereira, /Valeria Media, and the pharmacopoeias.