This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The dried stigmata of our cultivated Crocus sativus furnish what is known as Saffron, this being put by the cook to various culinary uses. It should consist of the loose stigmata (uncaked), being thus known as true "hay Saffron." From olden times this has been esteemed as highly cordial, and salutary, with anti-spasmodic, and some sedative effects. A narcotic oil may be extracted from the stigmata. Most of the commercial Saffron is had from Greece, and Asia Minor. In England it was fashionable during the seventh century to make use for laundry purposes of starch stained yellow with Saffron.
And in an old cookery book of that period it is directed that "Saffron should be put into all Lenten sauces, soups, and other such dishes; also that without Saffron we cannot have well-cooked peas." Lord Bacon taught that "Saffron conveys medicine to the heart, cures its palpitation, removes melancholy, and uneasiness, revives the brain, renders the mind cheerful, and generates boldness." The name Crocus is taken from the Greek krokee, a thread, in allusion to the thin, elongated stigmata of the flower. Old Fuller has quaintly expounded his notion that "the Crocodile's tears are never true save when he is forced where Saffron groweth; whence he hath his name Croco-deilos, or the Saffron fearer, knowing himself to be all poison, and it all antidote." The colouring matter of Saffron is a substance called polychroite, or crocin, and the mildly stimulating properties of the stigmata depend upon a volatile oil. "Saffron is 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, so 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".
Saffron tea will effectually control fluxes of blood, especially with women, if given of moderate strength, half a teacupful, sweetened to taste, every three, or four hours. The same remedy is likewise of service for faulty vision when there is a sense of gauze before the eyes, which the patient tries to wink or wipe away. "Nec poteris Croci dotes numerate, nec usus." It was customary in the sixteenth century to cultivate the growth of Saffron on a considerable scale, with varying success according to the season. Farmers who failed to produce a good crop became querulous, and wore dismal faces, being at the same time known agriculturally as "crokers"; and hence arose the exhortation under misfortune "not to be a croaker;" though others refer this figure of speech to the croaking of a frog.
Throughout Cornwall loaves, and cakes are commonly dyed yellow with Saffron. In Essex the plant was formerly cultivated largely, and particularly at Saffron Walden, where some of it was repeatedly presented in a silver cup by the corporation to several of our sovereigns, who visited Walden for the ceremony. The stigmata of the Saffron will give an intoxicating quality to beer; they exercise a specific influence on the brain, and nerves, insomuch that when taken in large doses the Saffron will cause immoderate mirth, and involuntary laughter. It has the singular property of counteracting the intoxication produced by alcoholic liquors, as do hops likewise to some extent; this was known to Pliny. Smelling strongly at the Hay Saffron of commerce (as obtained from France, and Spain) will cause headache, stupor, and heavy sleep, whilst during its internal use the urine becomes of a deep yellow, or orange colour. Irish women frequently dye their sheets with Saffron, so as to protect them from vermin, also with a view to strengthen their own limbs.