This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Crocus Ph. Lond. & Edinb. Crocus Jati-vus C. B. & Linn. Crocus autumnalis fativus Morison. hist. Saffron: a bulbous-rooted plant, with narrow grads-like leaves which have a white line running along the middle: the stalk is short and undivided, and bears on the top a purplish blue flower, deeply cut into six segments; in the middle of the flower arises, among the stamina, a whitish pistil, divided at the top into three stigmataor fleshy filaments, the lower part of which is slender and pale coloured, the upper broader, of a deep orange red, and very finely indented about the sides: the filaments, carefully picked, moderately dried in kilns, and pressed together into cakes, are the saffron of the shops. The plant is perennial, and flowers in autumn: the common spring crocuses of our gardens are reckoned by Linnaeus to be no other than varieties of it.
Saffron is cultivated in different parts of the world: that produced in our own country is greatly superiour to the sorts brought from abroad, and may be distinguifhed from them by its blades being broader. It should be cho-sen fresh, not above a year old, in close cakes, neither dry nor yet very moist, tough and firm in tearing, of a high fiery colour, staining the hands on rubbing it, and of the same colour within as on the outside.
Saffron is a very elegant and useful aromatic; of a strong, penetrating, diffusive smell, and a warm, pungent, bitterish taste. It is supposed to have a considerable degree of anodyne power, depending on its subtile odorous principle; to be more cordial and more exhilarating than almost any of the other aromatics, so as, when taken too freely, to occasion even immoderate mirth (a); to be particularly serviceable in disorders of the breast, in female obstructions, and hysteric depressions. It tinges the urine of a high colour. The dose is commonly from two or three grains to ten or twelve: Geoffroy says it may be extended with safety to a scruple and more.
Saffron gives out the whole of its virtue and colour to rectified spirit, proof spirit, wine, vinegar, and water: about three parts in four of the saffron are taken up by each of these menstrua; and the matter which remains un-dissolved is inodorous, insipid, and of a pale clay colour. Tinctures drawn with vinegar, or other liquors sensibly acid, soon lose of their rich colour in keeping: the colour of the vinous tinctures also fades a little, and a part of the dissolved saffron is apt to be in time thrown off: those made in proof spirit, and in rectified spirit, particularly the latter, may be kept in perfection for years.
(a) Hertodt, Crocologia, p. 32. Boerhaave, Elementa chemiae, process. 65.
The Edinburgh pharmacopoeia has a tincture of this kind, in which one ounce of saffron is macerated in fifteen ounces by weight of proof spirit. That of London had a vinous tincture which was used in making the syrup of saffron: but that is now expunged, and the syrup directed to be made by adding sugar to an infusion of an ounce of saffron in a pint of boiling water.
In distillation, it impregnates water strongly with its flavour: if the quantity of saffron is large, a small portion of a fragrant and very pungent essential oil may be collected, amounting, as is said by Vogel, to about a dram and a half from sixteen ounces. The remaining decoction, infpiffated, yields an extract of a high colour, in taste unpleasantly bitterish, without any thing of the distinguiihing smell or flavour of the saffron.
Rectified spirit elevates also a considerable share of its flavour, but leaves much the greatest part concentrated in the extract. This extract, in-fpiffated only to the consistence of oil, is recommended by Boerhaave as one of the highest cordials and exhilarants: the dose is a few drops, which may be taken in a glass of rich wine. It dissolves in wine and in water, as well as in spirit, and mingles also with oils both expressed and distilled; appearing to be a sub-ftance of a peculiar nature. The spirit, distilled from saffron, is said to have an advantage above most other cordial spirits, of dis-pofing the patient to sweat.
Tinct. croci Ph. Ed.
Syrup, croci Ph. Lond.