Crocus. N. F. IV. Saffron. Stigmata, Croci. Spanish Saffron, Safran, Fr. Cod. Crocus, P. G. Safran, G. Zafferano, It. Azafran, Sp.—"The stigmas of Crocus sativus, Linne (Fam. Iridaceae), without the presence of more than 10 per cent. of the yellow styles or other foreign matter." N. F. IV. "The dried stigmas and tops of the styles of Crocus sativus, Linn." Br., 1898. Crocus was dropped at the 1914 revision of the British Pharmacopoeia and the ninth U. S. P. revision. It has been recognized by the National Formulary IV.
Crocus sativus is a perennial plant, with a rounded and depressed bulb or corm, from which the flower rises a little above the ground, upon a long, slender, white, and succulent stem. The flower is large, of a beautiful lilac or bluish-purple color, and appears in September or October. The leaves are radical, linear, slightly revolute, dark green upon their upper surface, with a white longitudinal furrow in the center, paler underneath, with a prominent flattened midrib, and enclosed at their base, together with the tube of the corolla, in a membranous sheath, from which they emerge soon after the appearance of the flower. The style hangs out on one side between the two segments of the corolla, and terminates in three long convoluted stigmas, which are of a rich orange color, highly odorous, rolled in at the edges, and notched at the summit. The stigmas of the Crocus orientalis are used in the East.
C. sativus, or autumnal crocus, is believed to be a native of Greece and Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated from the earliest ages. There are three main varieties of it, the French, the Grecian, and the Chinese. The first of these is superior in color and flavor, the second in the amount of yield, while the third is said to unite these qualities. Saffron is also cultivated for medicinal use in Sicily, Spain, France, England, and other temperate countries of Europe. Large quantities of saffron are raised in Egypt, Persia. We cultivate the plant in this country chiefly as a garden flower, although some of the drug of very fine quality has been produced in Pennsylvania; the high cost of labor in America will probably prevent the possibility of its coming into commerce. Wild saffron is found growing in uncultivated fields in Southern Russia; Tichomirow believes that these are varieties of C. sativus and C. speciosus Marsh. Biebr., var. ß-Pallassii (C. Palassii Marsh. Biebr.). He further states that wild saffron from these sources is in no way inferior to the cultivated. (A. Pharm., 1903, 656.)
In England the flowers appear in October, and the leaves continue green through the winter; but the plant does not ripen its seed, and is propagated by offsets from the bulb. The flowers are gathered soon after they show themselves, as the period of flowering is very short. The stigmas, or summits of the pistils, together with a portion of the style, are separated from the remainder of the flower, and carefully dried by artificial heat, or in the sun. During this process they are sometimes made to assume the form of a cake by pressure; but the finest saffron is that which has been dried loosely. The two forms are distinguished by the names of cake saffron and hay saffron. Five pounds of the fresh stigmas are said to yield one pound of the dried. The English saffron, formerly most highly esteemed in this country, has disappeared from our market; what may be sold under the name is probably derived from other sources. For an account of the cultivation in England, see P. J., June, 1887. The Spanish saffron is generally considered the best in the United States, although most European writers on Materia Medica give the preference to the French saffron. The better grades of Spanish saffron are known as Valencia saffron, while Alicante saffron was said by Maisch to contain scarcely more than 50 per cent. of genuine saffron. According to Landerer, the stigmas of several other species besides those of C. sativus are gathered and sold as saffron in Greece and Turkey.
Properties.—Saffron has a peculiar, sweetish, aromatic odor, a warm, pungent, bitter taste, and a rich deep orange color, which it imparts to the saliva when chewed. It is described in the N. F. as follows: "Stigmas 3, united or separate, attached to the summit of the style; usually about 25 mm. in length, cornucopia-shaped, of a dark, rich red color, the margin dentate or fimbriate; styles about 10 mm. in length, more or less cylindrical, solid, yellowish. Odor strong, peculiarly aromatic; taste bitterish, aromatic. When chewed it colors the saliva orange-yellow. Under the microscope, the upper end of the stigma shows numerous cylindrical papillae about 0.15 mm. in length, among which occur a few spherical pollen grains, the latter being nearly smooth, and from 0.04 to 0.07 mm. in diameter; occasionally some of the pollen grains have germinated and show pollen tubes. When placed in sulphuric acid, the stigmas are immediately colored blue, gradually changing to violet, and finally become a deep wine-red color. Add 0.01 Gm. of finely powdered Crocus to 100 mils of cold water, allow it to macerate for several hours and filter; on adding 10 mils of this filtrate to 100 mils of water, it gives a distinctly yellow-colored solution. Macerate 0.01 Gm. of Crocus in 5 mils of methyl alcohol; a deep orange color is imparted to the liquid. Macerate 0.01 Gm. of Crocus in 5 mils of acetone, alcohol, or dehydrated alcohol; a distinct lemon-yellow color is produced. With corresponding quantities of Crocus and ether a very light lemon-yellow color is produced. With corresponding quantities of Crocus and chloroform a very slight, yellow tinge is imparted; and with corresponding portions of Crocus and xylene, benzene, carbon disulphide, or carbon tetrachloride, the solvents remain colorless. When Crocus is pressed between filter paper, the paper does not display transparent spots due to the absorption of oil. It loses not more than 14 per cent. of its weight when dried at 100° C. (212° F.). Crocus yields not more than 7.5 per cent. of ash and the ash is not fusible." N, F. The following tests were given in the Br., 1898: "Incinerated with free access of air, dried Saffron does not deflagrate (absence of nitrates), and yields about 7 per cent. of ash. It should not lose more than 12.5 per cent. of moisture when dried at 212° F. (100° C.)."
Analyzed by Vogel and Bouillon-Lagrange, saffron afforded 65 per cent. of a peculiar extractive matter, which they named polychroite, but later researches have shown that it is a mixture of the glucoside crocin, sugar, and essential oil. (Planchon, Drogues Simples, vol. i, 210.) Kayser obtained (Ber. d. Chem. Ges., 1884, 2228) pure crocin, having the formula C44H70O28) as a yellow powder, easily soluble in water and diluted alcohol, only slightly soluble in absolute alcohol, and giving with concentrated sulphuric acid a deep blue color, which turns violet, then cherry-red, and finally brown. It is easily decomposed by lime or baryta water into crocetin, and a dextro-rotatory sugar which Kayser calls crocose. The crocetin is a red powder, not soluble in water, but easily soluble in alcohol and ether. Its solution in alkalies shows an orange-yellow color, from which solution acids separate it again in orange-colored flecks. Its formula is C34H46O9, or, according to Schmuck and Marchlewski, C15H20O4; Kayser also found a colorless bitter principle, to which he gave the name picro-crocin or saffron bitter, and the formula C38H66O17) which is also of glucoside character. Saffron contains, according to Henry, about 10 per cent. of essential oil. This has the formula C10H14O, boils at 208° to 210° C. (406.4°-410° F.), is yellow, of a hot, acrid, bitterish taste, and heavier than water.
The high price of this medicine gives rise to frequent adulterations. Water is said to be very often added in order to increase its weight. Oil or glycerin is also added for the same purpose, or to improve the appearance. In some specimens the dyed corolla of the crocus with the attached stamens is abundant. Sometimes the flowers of other plants, particularly Carthamus tinctorius, or safflower, Calendula officinalis, or marigold, and arnica are fraudulently mixed with the genuine stigmas. They may be known by their shape, which is rendered obvious by throwing a portion of the suspected mass into hot water, to expand them. (See Carthamus.) A specimen of this adulteration was at one time introduced into the American market, by the name of African Saffron. (Maisch, A. J. P., March, 1872, p. 110.) Other adulterations are the fibers of dried beef, the stamens of the crocus, distinguishable by their yellow color, the stigmas previously exhausted in the preparation of the infusion or tincture, and various mineral substances, easily detected upon close examination. The flowers of a Brazilian plant named Feminella, or Feminelle, have, according to M. J. L. Soubeiran, been employed for the adulteration of saffron. They may be detected by shaking, gently but repeatedly, a large pinch of the suspected saffron over a piece of paper. The flowers of Feminella, being smaller and heavier, separate and fall, and may be seen to consist of very short fragments, with a color like that of saffron, but a rusty tint which the latter does not possess. (See Ph. Rev., 1898, 258.) The name Feminelle is also applied in commerce to the dyed styles of crocus or ligulate flowers of Calendula. J. Muller recommends concentrated sulphuric acid as the most certain test of saffron. It instantly changes the color of pure saffron to indigo blue. (Chem. Gaz., May, 1845.) An adulteration which has been largely practised appears to consist of yellow-colored chalk or barium sulphate, made into a thin paste, probably with honey, and attached to the stigmas, sometimes isolated, sometimes in groups of five or six, enveloping them almost completely. If this saffron be kept in a dry place, and often handled, the paste becomes partly broken up, and the colored powder spreads itself in the mass and the envelope. The chalk can at once be detected by shaking the suspected saffron with water, and treating the precipitated powder with hydrochloric acid, when effervescence will occur. A less than the ordinary brightness of color in the saffron should lead to suspicion of this adulteration. Much can be told as to the purity of saffron by agitating the suspected flowers in distilled water; if the drug be pure the liquid will remain clear, slowly assuming a fine pure yellow tint; the saffron also will retain its red color for hours. Another excellent plan is to scatter a pinch of the flowers upon the surface of warm water, when the stigmas should spread out and display their proper form. Minute fragments of red saunders, which are often added to saffron, may be separated by agitating with water. For an elaborate discussion of adulteration, see article by Kraemer, A. J. P., 1898, p. 386. Adulterations of crocus may sometimes be detected by remembering that the pollen grains are spheroidal, nearly smooth, and from 0.040 to 0.075 mm. in diameter. In various European markets there has been offered a saffron largely adulterated with borates, chlorides, and other salts of sodium and potassium, and yet retaining the physical properties of saffron of high character. These and other adulterations with inorganic salts can be detected by the amount of ash left on burning, genuine saffron leaving from five to seven per cent. This saffron also yielded immediately to water an orange-yellow color. Further, some of it at least was hygroscopic, so that when rubbed up between the fingers into a ball it retained that form instead of being elastic as is true saffron.
Attention has been called to a product of the Cape of Good Hope, named Cape saffron, which has a remarkable resemblance to genuine saffron, having a similar odor, and yielding a similar color to water, though the flowers themselves are differently colored. It is the flower of a small plant very abundant at the Cape, belonging to the family of Scrophulariaceae, and is said by Pappe of Cape Town, to possess medicinal virtues closely resembling those of true saffron. The flowers have been used successfully in the convulsions of children. (P. J., vi, 462, 1865.)
Choice of Saffron.—Saffron should not be very moist, nor very dry, nor easily pulverized; nor should it emit an offensive odor when heated upon a porcelain dish. The freshest is the best, and that which is less than a year old should, if possible, be selected. It should possess in a high degree the characteristic properties of color, taste, and odor. When agitated with water it should color it bright yellow, and it should not effervesce in the presence of a diluted acid. If it does not color the fingers when rubbed between them, or if it has an oily feel, or a musty flavor, or a black, yellow, or whitish color, it should be rejected. In the purchase of this drug in cakes, those should be selected which are close, tough, and firm in tearing; and care should be taken to avoid cakes made up of safflower.
As its activity depends, partly at least, on a volatile ingredient, saffron should be kept in well-stoppered vessels. Some recommend that it should be enclosed in a bladder and introduced into a tin case.
Saffron was extensively used by the ancients and by medieval physicians, as a highly stimulant antispasmodic and even narcotic emmenagogue, and is still employed to some extent upon the Continent; but in Great Britain and the United States it has fallen into well deserved and almost complete desuetude. In domestic practice saffron tea is occasionally used in exanthematous diseases, to promote the eruption. At present it is chiefly used to impart color and flavor. Saffron should be preserved in tightly-closed containers protected from light.
A tincture of saffron is recognized in the N. F. and it is also an ingredient of several compound pills and tinctures.
Dose, from ten to thirty grains (0.65 to 2.0 Gm.).