Saffron Crocus – Crocus sativus

One of a large range of spring- and autumn-flowering Crocuses, Saffron Crocus, which flowers in autumn, was imported to Britain from the East in the Middle Ages.

At one time it was grown extensively, in the area of Saffron Walden in Essex, and British saffron was available for use in the kitchen. Now, strangely, it has become a rare plant in Britain. The best spice now comes from Spain but the plant is also grown in many other areas of the world. Saffron is very expensive because so many Crocus flowers are needed to produce a small amount of the flavouring. It is estimated that 4,320 flowers are required to yield 25g (1 oz) of saffron.

The flowers and leaves of Saffron Crocus appear at the same time, usually in October. The leaves are grass-like, eventually reaching a length of 15— 30cm (6-12in). The large flowers are lavender or a deeper purplish mauve. They are about 3-5cm (1½-2in) in size and appear on short stems. The spice is produced by crushing the three blood-red, drooping stigmas. The bright yellow anthers are not used. “ Saffron is a spice that acts also as a dye and has a subtle flavour. It is used in very small amounts in cooking. Saffron was once reputed to have strong aphrodisiac properties but, in fact, is toxic if taken in excess.Saffron Crocus - Crocus sativus

Marigold flowers are sometimes used as a substitute for saffron. The petals are dried in thin layers at a low temperature, in a dark place with good ventilation. These conditions help to retain the flavour and the colour.

Using saffron

Saffron is used in many Spanish dishes, the most famous of which is paella. A sauce made with chicken or fish stock, shallots and sour cream flavoured with saffron makes an unusual accompaniment to chicken, white fish or cauliflower. It is also used in the making of bread or buns. Saffron soup is made from vegetables, fish, white wine and saffron.

Through The Year


Plant corms as soon as you obtain them. Use soil-based potting compost with added sand, and plant 6-8 about 7.5cm (3in) deep in a 15cm (6in) pot. Lift and divide the corms of older plants at least every 2-3 years. Clean carefully and replant immediately. Water newly planted or repotted corms thoroughly once, then leave. Place the pot in bright light and constant warmth.


Do not water until the leaves begin to appear in September or October.


When leaves and flowers appear start to water plants sparingly. Flowering should continue for about 4 weeks. Continue watering sparingly until leaves yellow and die back.

Plant Problems

No flowers appear, as a result of poor light and lack of summer warmth. Prevention: Provide a light, sheltered and sunny position.

The corms rot. The compost is probably too wet.

Treatment: Always avoid overwatering. Rotted corms must be discarded.


Saffron Crocus needs a very light position and summer warmth to produce flowers in autumn.

  • Potting: Use a soil-based compost with added sand to provide good drainage, or make your own mixture from equal parts of sand, peat moss or penile. Plants should be lifted and divided in early summer at least every two to three years.
  • Keep dry in summer and water sparingly between September and April, giving just enough water to moisten the potting mixture.
  • Feeding: This plant needs little feeding. Add fertilizer when repotting or give one application at the beginning of the growing season.


  • Light: Place this plant in the lightest position you can find.
  • Temperature: Saffron Crocus needs round-theyear warmth. Keep at a minimum temperature of 15°C (60°F).

The long red stigmas of the Saffron Crocus provide the valuable saffron used in cooking. This plant, which blooms in autumn, needs a bright position and summer warmth.

When to buy

  • Corms may not be available locally. In this case contact a specialist bulb nursery.
  • Choose corms that are firm and undamaged. Avoid imy that are bruised or showing signs of mildew.
  • This plant will survive for many years in the right conditions, and should be divided frequently.

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