Little less seems to have been the prejudice excited by the use of saffron as a dye (though in this case it was used for dyeing linen) when Ireland fell under the English yoke. The subject became one of stringent legislation, as well as of bitter reproach. A statute in the 28th of Henry VIII. prohibits the Irish, under penalty, from wear-ing any "shirt, smock, kerchor, bendel [fillet, perhaps the 'greate linnen roll' which so greatly raised the ire of Spenser], neckerchor, mocket [hand-kerchief], or linen cap dyed with saffron," etc. Sir Henry Ellis suggests that the dye was adopted for its ornamental colour,* but it seems scarcely probable that so scarce and expensive a dye should be commonly employed by a whole people, whose island abounded in common plants yielding yellow dyes of as fine, or even of finer, hues; plants too which we know were familiarly used by them. Indeed most contemporary writers, with greater shew of proba-bility, attribute the custom to a belief that it was good for the health, "mitigating the effects of their humid climate." Spenser fancifully traces it to the ancient Scythians, the nation from whom he "de-duced" the inhabitants of Ireland. The statement respecting the effects of saffron as a dye, is borne out by the extraordinary value formerly attached to it, wherever it was known, as an exhilarating and "comforting" drug. "Dormivit in sacco croci "was the monkish proverbial description of a man of placid, lively temper, and the reader will recollect how happily the expression has been made use of in "The Caxtons," and a general belief formerly prevailed that if taken in great excess it would pro-duce death by involuntary laughter. "Saffron,' we are told by Machet, is esteemed, "en medicine, comme carminatif, cephalique, cordial, stomachique, etc, mais on ne doit en faire usage interieurement qu'a tres petites doses, et a propos." Maister Christopher Cattan, in his "Geomancie"* thus enlarges on, and explains these enlivening proper-ties; "The saffron hath power to quicken the spirits; and the virtue thereof pierceth by and by to the heart, provoking laughter and merrines [mer-riment]: and they say, that these properties come by the influence of the sun, vnto whome it is sub-ject, from whom she is ayded, by his subtill nature bright and sweete smellinge." Hill, in his "Herbal," declares that "the whole compass of medicine does not afford a nobler cordial or sudorifick;" and Gerarde says, that though it causes headache, and hurts the brain if taken in very large quantities, its moderate use is good for the head, maketh the senses more quick, and lively, merry, and less sleepy, strengthening the heart and lungs, and being "especial good" for consumption, even if the patient be "at death's door," For yellow jaundice, too, he commends it - following the Rosicrucian doctrine of signatures - and for "plasters to sores;" adding, that it is much used in illuminating, and other painting.
These praises Blanchard ridicules, adding however that it "undoubtedly does much hurt many times by inflaming the blood." It was also formerly held to be a specific in gout (like colchicum, another of the family), but in more modern days Dr. Pereira has shewn that though it mitigates this most distressing complaint, it can do no more. It is now little used in our medical practice, except as a slightly stimulating tonic where the constitu-tion is too much reduced to re-act without some such assistance.
NAKEL FLOWERING- CROCUS. Crocus nudiflorus.
London'. P'ublished by John Van Voorst,1858.
* "Metrical Romances".
* "The Geomancie of Maister Christopher Cattan, Gentleman," London, V. Yoolfe, 1591. A rare and curious volume on Astrology.
Amongst the ancients in the West, as well as in the East, the crocus was highly prized, whether in its fresh state, for strewing the floors of apartments, or as saffron, for twenty different purposes. Homer* mentions it with the lotus and hyacinth; Pliny de-votes a chapter to its treatment, propagation, etc.; and Horace† particularises the "Corycian saffron," which was esteemed the best in the world. The Romans applied the essential oil to the skin as a cos-metic, as well as to the hair; and largely employed it for the purpose of scenting and refreshing the theatres and other places of assembly. For this purpose it was powdered and steeped in water, or wine; the liquid was then shot by means of a kind of syringe, with extremely small pores, over the multitude, so that it fell in drops so fine as to re-semble an almost impalpable dust. In the cele-brated tales of the Arabian Nights, saffron cakes abound even more plentifully than they did in former days in the hospitalities of our English housewives. The monopoly of all saffron grown in the district is still retained by the rajah of Kashmir, and the cultivators are compelled to sell it to him at a stated price; the whole crop being compulsorily carried to the town of Kashmir before the prized anthers are extracted.
Hakluyt states, and suc-ceeding writers follow him, that the cultivation of the saffron was introduced into England in the reign of Edward III. by a pilgrim, who, being a native of Saffron Walden,* brought a bulb of the precious crocus to his native place. This was done "with venture of his life; for if he had been taken, by the law of the country from whence it came, he had died for the fact," In order to bestow this bene-fit on his native district he had cunningly hollowed out the end of his palmer's staff, so as to hide within it "the precious plant." Percy, however, shews that it was imported in the form of a condiment at an earlier period than this, as it is mentioned in the list of the charges of the feast of Ralph Bourne, at Canterbury.-)- It is curious that the saffron grown in England is now esteemed the best, though cus-tom still confines our physicians to the formula, ‡ "recipe croci orientalist in their prescriptions. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it became one of the most important and valuable crops of Western Europe; and even so late as the year 1735, Estiene, in his "Apologie pour Herodote," affirms that saf-fron must not only be put into all Lent soups, sauces, and dishes,' but adds, that "without saffron we cannot have well-cooked peas." This use of saf-fron in Lent was for the purpose of keeping up the "animal spirits," which long-continued fasting reduced to an extent incompatible with the due ob-servance of all the religious duties enjoined at the period.
Camden, in speaking of Saffron Walden, says that the fields under saffron cultivation "look very pleasant;" and "what is more to be admired, that the ground which hath bore saffron three years together, will bear barley very plentifully eighteen years without dunging, and afterwards be fit eno' for saffron;" - a condition of things (if it be worthy of credit), which will fully account for the preva-lence of saffron cultivation in and before the time when he wrote.
* " Iliad," xiv., 348.
† ii. Sat iv., 68.
* Hence the prefix to its name, † "Lei Col." vol. v. 6, 35.
‡ It is now much circumscribed as to the district of its culti-vation in England, being hardly grown in more than three or four parishes in Cambridgeshire.
The Roman Catholic "Flora" (published for the enlightenment of ignorant converts), in mentioning the particular flower to be laid at the shrine of every saint, according to the season of the year, says that "The crocus blows before the shrine At vernal dawn, of St. Valentine!"
Hence it is often called by the rustic, "Flower of St. Valentine," or "Hymen's torch;" a name pret-tily appropriate to the flaming glow of the golden yellow crocus, - the brightest gem of the spring time; which, according to the Romans, was once a youth, who pining to death for his love, was meta-morphosed into a crocus. According to others, it first sprang from some drops of magic liquor which Medea prepared to restore the aged AEson to the strength and vigour of youth.
It is curious that the name of saffron (which has also been transferred to the crocus-plant), is nearly the same in all languages - except in the case of the German Zeitlose, and similar partial names - and is traceable to the Arabic Zahfaran, a name which refers to its "yellow" colour. Medicinally, it has at different times borne a variety of names, all indica-tive of the esteem in which it was held:- as Aurum philosophorum, Aurum vegetabile, Rex vegetabi-lium, Panacea vegetahilis, Sanguis Herculis, etc.
There is another plant, called by us saff-flower, which also produces a saffron; though it is not a crocus, but the carthamus tinctorius. Its flowers give a yellow dye, and, by means of alkalis, the bright reds and purples of China silks. It is a native of Egypt, where it is called goortum (car-thamus), and where an excellent oil is extracted from its seeds. It is also grown in Europe, China, and other places.
The saffron crocus (C. sativus), is certainly not indigenous to England, though ordinarily considered so in our "Floras." The purple spring crocus (C. vernus) is so abundant in the meadows of Nottinghamshire, that it actually makes the grass appear purple when in blow. The pretty little purple crocus (C. minimus) appears to be confined to one British locality - the park of Sir Henry Bunbury, at Barton, in Suffolk. It is probably an outcast from garden culture; so also is the plant which accompanies it, the golden crocus (C. aureus); and it is inconsistent to retain in our "Flora" plants so well known to have no claim to a place in it. A grave doubt also hangs over the real habitat of the autumnal crocus (G. speciosus), and the naked flower (C. nudiflorus.) We have no right to claim any of these, and the sooner botanists take "heart of grace" to express their almost unanimous opinion on the subject, the better for science and the cause of truth.
The following story is told in connexion with saffron, and the town of Zaffouroonee.
A Persian, they say, in the good old times, when men really did things a little out of the common way, found a large treasure on a certain spot, now now called Zaffouroonee, and in gratitude, made a vow to expend the whole in good works reserving to himself only the pleasure he might derive from his own benevolence. His first act was to build a karavanserai for distressed travellers. While engaged on the foundations seeing a merchant pass by looking weary and depressed, he said, "Friend, why is thy brow sad, and thine eyes cast down V "I am sad," replied the merchant, "because I have travelled from Khorassan to Baghdad with three kharvars (nearly a ton) of saffron, and times are so bad, that I am obliged to return to my own city a ruined man: the saffron, on which I depended for the next year's sustenance, I have brought back unsold, and there will now be no market for it before it is spoiled by keeping." "The saffron, then, is useless to thee," replied the first speaker; "if so, shoot it out on the ground, and mix it with the mortar." The merchant mechani-cally obeyed, without questioning the wisdom of the order, and to his astonishment received in payment three kharvars of precious stones; and from that time the karavanserai received the name it bears to the present day, of Zaffouroonee!*
* The story is told in Ferrier's "Caravan Journey through Persia," but I quote from memory.