[Sca-cooks] growing saffron

Stefan li Rous StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
Tue Mar 6 22:39:23 PST 2007

Siobhan asked:
<<< How hard is saffron to grow? >>>

It can be done. I've heard of several people in the SCA who were  
doing or had done this. Growing enough and processing enough for use  
is a different matter. It takes a large amount of labor to harvest  
and process enough saffron stammins(sp?) to have enough to do  
something with them.

 From the saffron-msg file in the Florilegium:

 >75,000 flowers to make a pound, and no it would not be a small  
amount of
 >land or care.  Crocus are fussy and would not like English weather  
 >much, damp and cold.  They would grow and you could grow them but  
 >is a lot.

Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 23:23:53 EST

From: LrdRas <LrdRas at aol.com>
Subject: Re: SC - saffron-growing

<< In the mean time, what can you tell me about growing saffron >>

 From Fieldbook of Natural History" ; 2nd edition, Palmer/Fowler.

Reproduced most commonly effected by offshoots from corms, though  
seeds may be
produced and used.

Soil> equal parts sand, garden soil and rotted manure.
To get the best results beds should be dug up at least once every 3  
yrs. and
corms seperated and replanted. Plants do best if there is an  
abundance of
moistureat the time of flowering.

Corms set out in late fall should bloom the following year. Can be  
planted in
a variety of locations: e.g. along a path, on a bank, in front of shrub
plantings,, almost anyplace they can be left undisturbed after  

NOTE: Seeds produced at ground surface easily overlooked.


Date: Tue, 30 Dec 1997 13:48:28 -0500
From: Ceridwen <ceridwen at commnections.com>
Subject: Re: SC - RE: saffron growing

     Just a couple bits of trivia on this "thread"... from an article in
Smithsonian Magazine a few years back. The author went to Consuega,
Spain to spend  the saffron harvest season with the growers. His report
was beautifully written and the photos were spectacular.
     The growing and harvesting of saffron has not changed much in
technique in more than 400 years. A moderate climate,rich, well-drained
sandy loam soil, and moderate rainfall are the basic requirements. In
Spain, the corms are planted in rows about 1 foot apart in plots of
about 5000 square feet, which will yield about a pound of the finished
product. They are harvested each year for 4 years, then dug up, sorted
and separated, and replanted in  a new plot. Old plots are allowed to go
fallow for 10 years before replanting. Most plots are rented, rather
than owned by the family.
     In October when the saffron starts to bloom, the harvest begins.
Mostly women and children do the picking and separating . Each plant may
produce up to 10 blooms over the week to 10 day season,so picking must
be done each morning before the blooms start to wilt. Each bloom is
snapped off the stalk into small baskets, When full, they are taken to a
building where the workers carefully pull the 3 or 4 stamens from the
flower. It takes between 70,000 and 100,000 flowers to amass a pound of
dried threads and the fastest workers can only pick out a few ounces a
day. Each worker keeps their pickings in front of them on a plate. At
the end of the day, each persons pickings are divided into four piles,
with the worker being allowed to choose the pile that appears largest
for their wage for the day.  Some even remove the small bit of white
from the bottom of the stamen. The stamens are then "roasted" over a
wood or charcoal fire to remove excess moisture. The illustration shows
a barrel type stove with trays which fit over the top. The screens are
made like cheese boxes, about 6-8" tall, of thin wood with a metal mesh
insert held by a strip of metal banding about 2" up from th bottom. The
threads are watched very carefully during this step, with experience as
the guide as to when they are "done".
      The quality of saffron depends on many things, from the soil
fertility, to weather, to how carefully it is handled during harvest.
     One company has been doing extensive research into "mechanizing"  
whole process, but without a lot of success. They have developed picking
machines, but those bog down in the muddy fields. The separation and
roasting processes have also been developed, with a lot of attention to
the best moisture content for the finished product. The local growers
are not apparently worried about this, as they believe that the best
saffron will always be picked and sorted by hand, and that there will
always be a demand for this attention to quality.
     I found this information fascinating, as I hope you all do. I have
tried without much success to grow saffron here in Florida. the climate
is right, but the squirrels dug up and ate the corms. I did get a
harvest though, with about 6 blooms per plant. Wonderfully different
from purchased threads... much stronger. My Pa-Dutch grandmother had
them in her flower beds, but didn't use the spice. I myself didn't
realize what her "fall crocuses "  were until may years after I moved
away. As she would have said, "we grow too soon old and too late smart".
But I will try it again, and put the corms into little wire mesh boxes
to keep out the critters. Oh, and they come in two colors, purple and
white, the white supposedly having been sacred to one of the Greek Gods.

Happy growing,


There are a number of other messages in this file about growing saffron.

THLord Stefan li Rous    Barony of Bryn Gwlad    Kingdom of Ansteorra
    Mark S. Harris           Austin, Texas           
StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
**** See Stefan's Florilegium files at:  http://www.florilegium.org ****

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