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
is order.

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 [484] 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.

[485] 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

[486] 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

Latin Grammar).

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 [487] 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 [488] 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 [489] 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.