Saffron (Crocus sativus) is the world’s most expensive spice. The high labor costs associated with the spice have resulted in a limited supply.
Saffron has traditionally been used to flavor food, though it has occasionally been used medicinally as well. Recent research has examined saffron’s antidepressant properties.
Though there are limited human studies on the subject of saffron and depression, they are of high quality. The studies include trials against placebo and trials against reference drugs, such as the SSRI fluoxetine. These studies show that saffron, at the recommended dose, has antidepressant properties comparable to the reference drugs. These studies were conducted in Iran, which produces 90% of the world’s saffron. While this should not discredit the results of the studies, replication from other researchers would go a long way toward solidifying saffron’s effects.
Saffron’s antidepressant properties are related to serotonin metabolism. Saffron’s side effects, like reduced snacking and an elevated mood, could be the result of increased serotonin action in the body. Further research is needed to determine the exact functioning of this mechanism.
Using saffron in food will provide the same effects as supplementation, since saffron supplements are dehydrated extracts of the spice. Saffron does not have a high margin of safety, so care should be taken during supplementation. The standard daily dose is 30mg, used for up to eight weeks. It is possible that even double the dose could result in harm to the body. Further research is needed to determine the safe level of saffron supplementation. Prudent supplementation is advised until more information is available.