Crocus sativus. Saffron.
Nat. Ord. — Iridaceae. Sex. Syst. — Triandria Monogynia.
Description. — Saffron is a perennial plant, with a rounded and depressed bulb or cormus, the integuments of which consist of parallel fibers, which are distinct at the upper end. The leaves are radical, linear, long, placid, slightly revolute at the margins, dark-green upon their upper surface, with a white, longitudinal furrow in the center, paler underneath with a prominent, flattened midrib, and inclosed at their base, together with the tube of the corolla, in a long membranous sheath or bract, from which they emerge soon after the appearance of the flower. The flowers are large, of a beautiful lilac, or bluish-purple color, with a long, slender, campanulate white tube, axillary, striated, with a two-valved, membranous, thin, transparent, radical spathe, and appearing with the leaves. The style hangs out on one side between two segments of the corolla, and terminates in three long, deeply-divided, linear-cuneiform, emarginate, fragrant stigmas, of a deep orange color.
History. — Saffron is a native of Greece and Asia Minor, and is much cultivated in some parts of Europe. It is also cultivated as a garden flower, in this country. It is liable to two diseases, which occasionally interfere with the success of its culture ; one is owing to a parasitic fungus which adheres to the bulb ; the other, called tacon by the French, converts the bulb into a blackish powder. Saffron flowers in the autumn, and perfects its seed the succeeding spring. It is propagated by offsets from the bulb. The part used in medicine is the stigmas ; to obtain these, the flowers are gathered as soon as they unfold themselves, the stigmas are separated, and dried by an artificial heat. There are two kinds of it in commerce, called Hay and Cake Saffron. The Hay Saffron, which is the best kind, consists simply of the stigmata entangled together, and retaining their original deep orange color. The Cake Saffron is in flexible cakes, about half a line in thickness, and of a dirty, brownish-orange tint, made by beating the stigmata together before they are quite dry. Saffron has a powerful, aromatic, somewhat stupefying odor, and a bitterish, balsamic, rather acrid taste. It imparts its properties to water, vinegar or spirit. In choosing it, it should not be very moist nor very dry, nor easily pulverized, nor should it emit an offensive odor when thrown on hot coals. The freshest is the best, and should possess an oily feel, and color the fingers when rubbed between them. As its active principle is volatile, it should be kept in well-stopped vessels.
Saffron yields, on analysis, 7.5 per cent, of an odorous, volatile oil, wax, gum, albumen, saline matter, water, lignin, and 6.5 per cent, of a peculiar extractive matter, termed polychroite, on account of the changes of color it undergoes by the reaction of agents. It may be obtained by evaporating the watery infusion of saffron to the consistence of honey, digesting the residue in alcohol, filtering the tincture, and evaporating it to dryness. It is a reddish -yellow mass, of an agreeable smell, slightly bitter, soluble in water and alcohol, and somewhat deliquescent. Nitric acid added to its solution renders it of a grass-green color, sulphuric acid changes it to blue and then violet, and on exposure to light, or to the action of chlorine, it becomes colorless. It contains about twenty per cent, of volatile oil, to which the medicine owes its activity, and which can be separated only by an alkali. When pure, polychroite is of a brilliant red, readily soluble in alcohol, and the fixed and volatile oils, and difficultly soluble in water, which it renders yellow. The volatile oil of saffron may be partially separated by distillation ; it is yellow, of a hot, acrid, bitterish taste, and heavier than water, in which it is slightly soluble.
Saffron is very liable to be adulterated with water, oil, flowers of other plants, fibers of dried beef, etc. Hot water will detect the adulteration with flowers by their expansion, while in it ; muscular fibers may be known by the odor of burning horn emitted on burning the suspected article. When rubbed between the finger and thumb without staining the skin yellow, the saffron has been exhausted by water or spirit. A certain test of saffron is concentrated sulphuric acid, which changes the color of pure saffron to indigo blue.
Properties and Uses. — Emmenagogue and diaphoretic. Has been of benefit in amennorrhea, dysmenorrhea, chlorosis, hysteria, and in suppression of the lochial discharge. As a diaphoretic, used in febrile and exanthematous diseases, especially of children. Many consider this valuable agent as inert. Dose of the powder, from twelve to forty grains ; of the tincture or syrup, from one to two fluidrachms ; of the decoction, from one to three fluidounces.
Off. Prep. — Tinct. Aloes et Myrrhae ; Tinctura Serpentariae Composita.