Marianne CannonHow to grow saffron

It takes 165 crocus flowers to make just one gram of saffron spice. Saffron is the stigma, or female flower part of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. The large numbers of flowers needed plus the high labor costs of carefully picking just that part from the flower make it  the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is currently selling for between $4.00 and $17.00 per gram, depending on quality, with the world’s finest saffron generally coming from the La Mancha area of Spain. But you can grow your own!

Saffron_farm_in_Bardeskan_(2)Today I’m talking with Ian Hemphill about how to grow your own saffron successfully in the home garden, and then you’ll never be caught out with fake saffron which is still sold in many places.

Saffron gatherers

Saffron gatherers

 

Iran is the world’s biggest grower of saffron, followed by Kashmir and Spain but it’s also grown in Italy and Greece. These countries all have a Mediterranean climate with hot,dry summers and cool to cold wet winters. Saffron has been known and used for thousands of years, both in food and as a fabric dye and has long been associated with the wealthiest classes. The word saffron comes from the Arabic word for yellow.

Crocus sativus Photo by Line1

Crocus sativus Photo by Line1

 

 

Growing saffron

You need a cool Mediterranean climate to grow saffron (Zones 6, 7 and 8, and drier Zone 9). In Australia, that’s Tasmania, western Victoria, elevated parts of South Australia and areas of western NSW. You’re not likely to be successful in areas of high summer humidity or rainfall, like most of the Australian east coast. Saffron crocus is grown commercially in Tasmania, but its output is only a blip on the world’s commercial market of true saffron.

 

timthumb (1)Buying and planting

Saffron corms will be available to buy during their dormant period in summer (June to September in the northern hemisphere, and December to April in the southern hemisphere). Plant the bulbs about 5cm (2 inches) deep, preferably in full sun (or somewhere that will be sunny during the autumn/fall flowering period) and make sure the soil drains well. In warmer and temperate climates you need to put buckets of ice on the bulbs every night during winter to give them sufficient winter chilling. That seems an awful lot of effort!

timthumbDon’t over water them or they will succumb to fungal diseases. They’re very drought hardy and will probably only need watering once or twice during their growing season.

Saffron produces flowers in autumn/fall with a beautiful light purple flower, which lasts a few weeks. The leaves only appear after flowering. The corms will gradually multiply so you can lift and divide them after about 5 years to increase your crop.

When the flowers are fully opened, you can carefully remove the stigmas from the flowers using tweezers, or harvest the whole flower if you have a bigger crop. Harvesting the flowers is real back-breaking work as the plants are very small. Then there’s the delicate operation to remove the 3 dark red stigmas from each flower – the flower is then discarded as it has no commercial value.

Dry the stigmas in a dehydrator or on a fine mesh rack in a cool oven (50-60 degrees C) for about 15 minutes. Store saffron in an air-tight container in a dark place. However you will need a couple of hundred plants to get your 1 gram of saffron threads!

Saffron Photo Safa DaneshvarHow to use saffron in cooking

Saffron has a very distinct almost woody flavour, and is a real appetite stimulant but you have to be careful not to use too much or you can create a bitter taste. 12-20 good quality ‘threads’ (stigmas) are quite enough for one cup of rice.

Soaking saffron . Photo by THOR

Soaking saffron . Photo by THOR

Infuse the saffron in tepid water for 10-15 minutes before you use it to bring out the colour and flavour and then tip the stigmas and the coloured water into your dish. This is the moment when you might discover you’ve got fake saffron if the colour diffuses instantly rather than taking 10 minutes or more, and is very red rather than a golden yellow. The fake threads will also disintegrate when you handle them, unlike the more robust real saffron. If you have a great recipe using saffron, write in and tell us about it.

[In Australia, even though it’s winter, you can still buy saffron as potted up seedlings from Four Seasons Herbs online]

Like this post? Why not share it with a friend?


Marianne Cannon

About Marianne Cannon

Marianne Cannon has been broadcasting as Real World Gardener on radio 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney, since September 2009, and the program is now syndicated to radio stations around Australia. It's about growing your own, the abc of plants, and how to create sustainable gardens to fit into today's environment. Not just a show about plants; it has a strong green and ecological bent, with co-presenters addressing issues such as native animals and plants, water conservation, composting, reducing waste, protecting native species and more.

19 thoughts on “How to grow saffron

  1. Oh to be able to grow this beautiful and delicious plant and not buy rubbish and fakery! Sadly, my ‘cool’ subtropical climate would never agree with it. Better get Jennifer Stackhouse on the case in her new Tassie home….

  2. Spicy Red Head on said:

    My daughter visited Spain last year and came home with a gift of ‘real’ saffron for me. As someone who adores cooking, it was just the best gift ever! I was delighted.
    Yes Catherine, wouldn’t it be great if we had a suitable climate here in Sydney to grow it.

  3. Gregg on said:

    Catherine, I’ve been growing saffron for a decade, with a little success. Finding the right spot can be a difficult. Bulb size is also important – small bulbs won’t flower.
    On drying saffron, recent research out of Tasmania indicates that the flavour, aroma and colour components are maximised at temperatures around 80 – 85 C. The high heat modifies some of the inactive substances into active ones, This research recommends wet heat at around 85C for 20 minutes or so, followed by a short burst of dry heat. A tray of water in the oven can provide the steam necessary. Remove it for final drying.
    This research is a bit hard to access – a PhD was funded by Tas Saffron I think, so the reporting is a bit vague.

    • Bruce Avery on said:

      So the bulbs are planted in Autumn and then take 12 months to flower in the following Autumn, or flower during the planting Autumn?

      • Bruce,
        Flower initiation takes place the season before flowers actually emerge – it depends on the growing season whether this occurs or not. If your purchased bulbs were grown well and accumulated sufficient energy reserves to initiate flower formation in the season before you purchased them, they will flower the first season you plant them, otherwise they need to get a good growing season under their belts to flower in the following year.

  4. denisekidwell12 on said:

    want to grow my own saffron , but im in Rossmore N.S.W., help

    • Hi Denise – you will need to be a bit more specific about what kind of help you’re after?

  5. gregg on said:

    Hi Denise, I live in the lower blue mountains west of Sydney , so unlike we don’t get the high humidity, average summer temp 20-30 and winter 7-17degrees C. We also have good free draining soil. Are these conditions suitable to grow saffron? gregg

  6. Rosa on said:

    Can crocus sativus bulbs be grown in pots, if so how deep should the pot be?

  7. Hello Rosa,
    Crocus bulbs can be grown in pots. Plant them 5 cm deep, just as you would in the ground.
    I would recommend using a terracotta pot because they’re porous and dry out a bit quicker.
    Marianne

  8. Aygun Mutellimova on said:

    Hello everyone
    I am from Azerbaijan and it has been a long time since we are exporting saffron to different countries, except Australia. Recently i have learned that Australia is one of the countries which imports saffron from different countries. For this reason i would like to import our saffron to this country as well. But I am a little bit confused, cause do not know who to contact with regarding this issue.

  9. nathan dunning on said:

    I live in tassy and want to know where do I get bulbs? If anyone could point me in that direction 🙂

  10. Theo on said:

    Hi.
    I live in Paros. Cyclades. Greece.
    I got some bulbs from the north greece in kozani. Which is very well known for its saffron.
    I got them in July. Had them in my “seed bank”, now they are sprouting like crazy.
    Should I plant them in full sun. Well drained and fertile soil.?
    Or half shade under the olive trees. Clayish soil.?
    Kind regards.
    @theo_and_the_garden.

  11. Hello Theo,
    You should plant your saffron in full sun into well drained fertile soil.
    From my article:
    “Plant the bulbs about 5cm (2 inches) deep, preferably in full sun (or somewhere that will be sunny during the autumn/fall flowering period) and make sure the soil drains well. “

  12. Robert Ndiko on said:

    how do i get safron seeds to plant? Contact me on +256772551940, +256700888881 or email: robertndiko@gmail.com

  13. Tanya Selth on said:

    I have saffron seeds and cant seem to find out when Im supposed to plant these in Sth Australia.

Leave a Reply (no need to register)