(From krokin, Chaldean) Saffron: because of its golden colour, the chemists call it aroma philosophorum, by contraction aroph; others have called it sanguis Herculis, aurum vegetabile, anima pul-monum, and Jovis flos. For its supposed efficacy in some diseases, it is entitled rex vegetabiliam, and panacea vegetabilis; from its power of exciting laughter, it hath the appellation of hortus Iaetititae; and from its cheering effects, medicina tristitiae. Besides these, various other names are to be met with in different authors. Its name of saffron is from the Arabian word zaffaran, or zahafaran. Crocus sativus α Lin. Sp. Pi. 50. Nat. order liliaceiae.
Saffron is a bulbous rooted plant; its leaves are shaped like those of grass; the flower is of a purplish blue colour, cut deep into six segments; in the middle of the flower, among the stamina, arises a pistil, which is divided at the top into three fleshy filaments; the upper part of these filaments is of a deep orange red colour, and the saffron of the shops. The plant is perennial; the flowers blow in September and October. The filaments of the saffron flowers are carefully separated, and moderately dried in a kiln; and when no farther manufactured, are sold under the name, saffron in the hay. But the greatest part of this article is, after being dried to a certain degree, pressed into thin cakes.
It is cultivated in France, Spain, Austria, Hungary, etc.; but the best is produced in England, and the plant is now indisputably ascertained to be a native of this country. It may be distinguished from all others by the greater breadth of its blades. The best saffron is in long broad filaments, of a deep red colour, without any yellow parts, moderately dry, yet flexible and soft to the touch, difficultly pulverized, of a strong and agreeable smell, especially at a distance; affecting the eyes so as to draw tears from them; of a pungent and somewhat bitterish taste: it readily impregnates the hand with its smell; stains the moist hand with a deep yellow colour, and colours a very large proportion of alcohol.
It is sometimes adulterated with the fibres of smoked beef, the flowers of the carthamus, the calendula officinalis, &c; but the imposition may be detected by the want of the white ends observable in saffron; the in-considerable or bad smell, when thrown on live coals. The Spanish saffron is covered with oil, to preserve it. Of the foreign, the French and Austrian saffron is the best.
It yields in distillation with water a small proportion of essential oil, of a golden colour, heavier than water, with a smell of the saffron in a high degree. By other experiments it afforded the extractive copiously, and in a pure state. Its aromatic part is extremely volatile, so that it should be kept carefully covered. It yields its colour and virtue to spirit of different strengths; to wine, water, either cold or hot, and vinegar. The last soon loses its colour. The watery infusion and the vinous tincture soon grow sour, and lose all their colour and virtue. About three parts in four of the saffron are dissolved by each, and the remainder is a pale mass, without colour, taste, or smell.
As a medicine, it has been esteemed an agreeable aromatic, an anodyne,antispasmodic, cordial,and attenuant. Boerhaave ranks it among narcotic poisons; and, in case of an imprudent dose, orders a vomit and acidulated draughts. It has been called a very powerful emmen-agogue, and said to require caution in its use, as some patients are more affected by it than others; in disorders of the lungs it hath been so esteemed as to obtain the name of anima pulmonum. In coughs it is highly commended; and Camerarius says, that a scruple of saffron, with half a grain of musk, is of considerable efficacy in asthmas. Very frequent experiments in practice do not, however, support the opinions commonly entertained of it. Dr. Cullen has given it in large doses, when it scarcely produced sensible effects in any degree, or increased the frequency of the pulse; and as anodyne or antispasmodic, he scarcely observed its operation. In one or two instances he suspected an emmenagoguc power, but in others, though repeatedly employed in large doses, it was useless; and though he has given it in every shape, and in larger doses than authors ever proposed, he never discovered in it any virtue. Indeed, though the sensible qualities of this medicine are pretty considerable, it appears to possess no other power than that of a weak aromatic. In this medicine very little confidence is at present placed; though it enters into several officinal compositions, more on account of its colour perhaps than its utility.
In distillation, water is strongly impregnated with its flavour; and if the quantity of saffron is large, a small portion of a fragrant and very pungent essential oil may be collected, which, according to Vogel, amounts to about a drachm and a half from sixteen ounces. The remaining decoction, inspissated to an extract, retains all the virtues of the saffron, except, it is said, the cordial one. The spirituous extract retains much of the cordial quality, if it has any.
The dearness of saffron subjects it to many artifices; but the best method of avoiding them is to purchase only the sort called hay-saffron.
The London college directs the following method of preparing the syrup of saffron:
Take of saffron, one ounce; boiling distilled water, two pints; macerate the saffron with the water for two hours in a vessel close stopped; and to the strained liquor add, of double refined sugar, sufficient to make a syrup. Pharm. Lond. 1788.
See Lewis's Mat. Med. Raii Historia Plantarum. Neumann's Chemical Works. Cullen's Mat. Med.
Crocus antimonii. See Antimonium.
Crocus martis aperiens, and astringens. See Ferrum.
Crocus metallorum. See Antimonium.
Crocus saracenicus. Bastard saffron. See Carthamus.