Saffron is a spice that comes from the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. This fall flowering crocus is distinct from the ornamental spring flowering crocuses. It also must not be confused with the similar but toxic fall flowering Colchicums. The only part used for the spice are the tiny stigmas of the flowers. Each plant usually produces between 2–4 flowers, and approximately 150 flowers are needed to provide 1 gram of the dried spice. This small yield per plant helps make saffron the most expensive spice in the world. While saffron is often associated with cuisines from distant lands, it can actually grow practically anywhere, including in Santa Clara County. Even if they are not used for the spice, the flowers are beautiful. Enjoy saffron in dishes such as paella, risotto, arroz con pollo, and saffron rice.
How to grow
Plant the corms (bulb) in the fall. Leaves appear in early spring, and grow until they wither and die back during summer dormancy. Another crop of leaves arrive with cool fall weather, followed by the flowers.
- Type: Perennial
- Light: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil: Well drained, prefers sandy loam
- Water: Moderate. Do not overwater
- Size: 4–6" high, 4–6" wide
When to plant/propagate: Plant corms in the fall. Plant 2–4" deep, 4" apart. Divide corms to propagate and prevent overcrowding. Frost tolerant.
- Harvest the stigmas as soon as the flowers bloom in fall. Pick the stigmas (three per flower) with tweezers
- Air dry the stigmas, then place into an airtight spice bottle or vial
- Store in a dark place
Caution: Crocus sativus must never be confused with the similar appearing, but toxic, Colchicums. Colchicums are commonly referred to as "autumn crocus" or "meadow saffron". Colchicums have six stamens while crocuses have only three.
Common pests & diseases
- Crocus sativus, Missouri Botanical Garden
- Crocus, UCCE Central Coast & South Region, Center for Landscape and Urban Horticulture
- Grow Your Own Saffron, Washington State University Benton County Extension