Saffron (meadow And Cultivated)
The Meadow Saffron (Colchicum autumnale) is a common wild
Crocus found in English meadows, especially about the Midland
districts. The flower appears in the autumn before the leaves and
fruit, which are not produced until the following spring. Its corollae
resemble those of the true Saffron, a native of the East, but long
cultivated in Great Britain, where it is sometimes found apparently
wild. They are plants of the I
From the Meadow Saffron is obtained a corm or bulb, dug up in the
spring, of which the well-known tincture of colchicum, a specific
for rheumatism, is made; and from the true Saffron flowers are
taken the familiar orange red stigmata, which furnish the fragrant
colouring matter used by confectioners in cakes, and by the
apothecary for his syrup of Saffron, etc.
The flower of the Meadow Saffron rises bare from the earth, and is,
therefore, called Upstart and Naked Lady. This plant owes its
botanical name Colchicum, to Colchis, in Natalia, which
abounded in poisonous vegetables, and gave rise to the fiction about
the enchantress Medea. She renewed the vitality of her aged father,
AEneas, by drawing blood out of his veins and refilling them with
the juices of certain herbs. The fabled origin of the Saffron plant ran
thus. A certain young man named Crocus went to play at quoits in a
field with Mercurie, when the quoit of his companion happened by
misfortune to hit him on the head, whereby, before long, he died, to
the great sorrow of  his friends. Finally, in the place where he
had bled, Saffron was found to be growing: whereupon, the people,
seeing the colour of the chine as it stood, adjusted it to come of the
blood of Crocus, and therefore they gave it his name. The medicinal
properties of Colchicum have been known from a very early period.
In the reign of James the First (1615), Sir Theodore Mayerne
administered the bulb to his majesty together with the powder of
unburied skulls. In France, it has always been a favourite specific
for gout; and during the reign of Louis the Fifteenth, it became very
fashionable under the name of Eau Medicinale; but the remedy is
somewhat dangerous, and should never be incautiously used.
Instances are on record where fatal results have followed too large a
medicinal dose, even on the following day, after taking sixty drops
of the wine of Colchicum overnight; and when given in much
smaller doses it sometimes acts as a powerfully irritating purgative,
or as an emetic. The medicine should not be employed except by a
doctor; its habitual use is very harmful.
The acrimony of the bulb may be modified in a measure if it, or its
seeds, are steeped in vinegar before being taken as a medicine.
The French designate the roots of the Meadow Saffron (Colchicum)
as Tue-chien; morte aux chiens, death to dogs.
Alexander of Tralles, a Greek physician of the sixth century, was
the first to advise Colchicum (Hermodactylon) for gout, with the
effect that patients, immediately after its exhibition, found
themselves able to walk. But, said he, and with shrewd truth, it
has this bad property, that it disposes those who take it curatively
for gout or rheumatism, to be afterwards more frequently attacked
with the disease than before.
 Our druggists supply an officinal tincture of Colchicum
(Meadow Saffron) made from the seeds, the dose of which is from
ten to thirty drops, with a spoonful of water; also a wine infused
from the bulb, of which the dose is the same as that of the tincture,
twice or three times a day; and an acetous extract prepared from the
thickened juice of the crushed bulbs, of which from half to two
grains may be given in a pilule, or dissolved in water, twice or three
times a day, until the active symptoms are subdued, and then less
often for another day or two afterwards. The most important
chemical constituent of the bulb, flowers, and seeds, is Colchicin.
Besides this there are contained starch, gum, sugar, tannin, and
some fatty resinous matter. There is also a fixed oil in the seeds.
Crocus vernus, the True Saffron, grows wild about Halifax, and
in the neighbourhood of Derby; but for commercial uses the supply
of stigmata is had from Greece, and Asia Minor. This plant was
cultivated in England as far back as during the reign of Edward the
Third. It is said that a pilgrim then brought from the Levant to
England the first root of Saffron, concealed in a hollow staff, doing
the same thing at the peril of his life, and planting such root at
Saffron Walden, in Essex, whence the place has derived its name.
The stigmata are picked out, then dried in a kiln, over a hair cloth,
and pressed afterwards into cakes, of which the aromatic quality is
very volatile. The plant was formerly cultivated at Saffron Walden,
where it was presented in silver cups by the Corporation to some of
our sovereigns, who visited Walden for the ceremony. Five guineas
were paid by the Corporation for the pound of Saffron which they
purchased for Queen Elizabeth; and to constitute this quantity forty
 thousand flowers were required. The City Arms of Walden
bears three Saffron plants, as given by a Charter of Edward the
Sixth. Saffron Hill, in Holborn, London, belonged formerly to Ely
House, and got its name from the crops of saffron which were
grown there: Occult? Spolia hi Croceo de colle ferebant (Comic
In our rural districts there is a popular custom of giving Saffron tea
in measles, on the doctrine of colour analogy; to which notion may
likewise be referred the practice of adding Saffron to the drinking
water of canaries when they are moulting.
In England, it was fashionable during the seventh century to make
use of starch stained yellow with Saffron; and in an old cookery
book of that period, it is directed that Saffron must be put into all
Lenten soups, sauces, and dishes; also that without Saffron we
cannot have well-cooled peas. Confectioners were wont to make
their pastry attractive with Saffron. So the Clown says in
Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, I must have Saffron to colour the
warden pies. We read of a Saffron-tub in the kitchen of Bishop
Swinfield, 1296. During the fourteenth century Saffron was
cultivated in the herbarium of the manor-house, and the castle.
Throughout Devonshire this product is quoted to signify anything
Henry the Eighth forbade persons to colour with Saffron the long
locks of hair worn then, and called Glibbes. Lord Bacon said, the
English are rendered sprightly by a liberal use of Saffron in
sweetmeats and broth: also, Saffron conveys medicine to the
heart, cures its palpitation, removes melancholy and uneasiness,
revives the brain, renders the mind cheerful, and generates
boldness. The restorative plant has been termed Cor hominis;
Anima  pulmonum, the Heart of Man; and there is an
old saying alluding to one of a merry temper, Dormivit in sacco
Croci, he has slept in a sack of Saffron. It was called by the
ancients Aurum philosophorum, contracted to Aroph. Also,
Sanguis Herculis, and Rex Vegetabilium, being given with
good success to procure bodily lust. The English word Saffron
comes from the Arabian--Zahafram--whilst the name Crocus of
this golden plant is taken from the Greek krokee--a thread--
signifying the dry thin stigmata of the flower. Old Fuller wrote the
Crocodile's tears are never true save when he is forced where
Saffron groweth (whence he hath his name of Croco-deilos, or the
Saffron-fearer), knowing himself to be all poison, and it all
antidote. Frequently Marigold stigmata are cheaply used for
adulterating the true Saffron.
Homer introduces Saffron as one of the flowers which formed the
nuptial couch of Jupiter: and Solomon mentioned it as growing in
his garden: Spikenard and saffron: calamus, and cinnamon
(Canticles iv., 14). Pliny states that wine in which Saffron was
macerated gave a fragrant odour to theatres about which it was
sprinkled. The Cilician doctors advised Cleopatra to take Saffron for
clearing her complexion.
The medicinal use of Saffron has always obtained amongst the
Orientals. According to a treatise, Croco-logia (1670), by
Hartodt, it was then employed as a medicine, as a pigment, and for
seasoning various kinds of food. The colouring matter of Saffron is
a substance called polychroite, or crocin; and its slightly stimulating
properties depend upon a volatile oil.
Boerhaave said that Saffron possesses the power of liquefying the
blood; hence, Women who use it too freely suffer from immoderate
menses. A tincture is  made (H.) from the Saffron of
commerce, which is of essential use for controlling female
haemorrhages. Four or five drops of the tincture may be given with a
spoonful of water every three or four hours for this purpose. The
same tincture is good for impaired vision, when there is a sense of
gauze before the eyes, which the person tries to wink, or wipe away.
Smelling strongly and frequently at the Hay Saffron of commerce
(obtained from Spain and France), will cause headache, stupor, and
heavy sleep; whilst, during its internal use, the urine becomes of a
deep yellow colour.
Of the syrup of Saffron, which is a slightly stimulating exhilarant,
and which possesses a rich colour, from one to two teaspoonfuls
may be given for a dose, with two tablespoonfuls of cold water. It
serves to energise the organs within the middle trunk of both males
and females; also to recruit an exhausted brain.
In Devonshire, Saffron used to be regarded as a most valuable
remedy to restore consumptive patients, even when far advanced in
the disease, and it was, therefore, esteemed of great worth:--
Nec poteris croci dotes numerare, nec usus.
Saffron is such a special remedy for those that have consumption of
the lungs, and are--as we term it--at death's door, and almost past
breathing, that it bringeth breath again, and prolongeth life for
certain days, if ten, or twenty grains at most, be given in new, or
sweet wine. It presently, and in a moment, removeth away difficulty
of breathing, which most dangerously and suddenly happeneth.
In Westphalia, an apple mixed with Saffron, on the doctrine of
signatures, is given on Easter Monday, against jaundice. Evelyn
tells us: The German  housewives have a way of forming
Saffron into balls; by mingling it with a little honey, which, when
thoroughly dried, they reduce to powder, and sprinkle it over their
sallets for a noble cordial. Those of Spain and Italy, we know,
generally make use of this flower, mingling its golden tincture with
almost everything they eat. But, an excessive use of Saffron proves
harmful. It will produce an intense pain in the head, and imperil the
reason. Half-a-scruple, i.e., ten grains, should be the largest dose.
In fuller doses this tincture will provoke a determination of blood to
the head, with bleeding from the nose, and sometimes with a
disposition to immoderate laughter. Small doses, therefore, of the
diluted tincture, ought to relieve these symptoms when they occur as
spontaneous illness. The inhabitants of Eastern countries regard
Saffron as a fine restorative, and nuptial invitations are often
powdered by them with this medicament.
In Ireland women dye their sheets with Saffron to preserve them
from vermin, and to strengthen their own limbs.
Green herbs, red pepper, mussels, Saffron,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach and dace;
All these you eat at Ferre's tavern
In that one dish of bouillabaisse.