Do you love good cuisine and enjoy delicious dishes? Then we’re sure you’ve heard of saffron before. This flower is sold as the most expensive spice by weight. The reason why it is so high-priced is due to the labour involved to produce the threaded plant. But it is so worth it since adding just a small amount to certain recipes can give food a rich taste.
You will find saffron usually in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean and the sub-continent, but people can also grow it in the UK! Maybe you already know how to grow garlic, chillies, or even avocados at home, but what about that unique spice? When developing your own saffron, you will save on the expensive purchase price. Do you want to know how? Keep on reading to find out all you need to know about growing, harvesting and using saffron so you can enjoy its fantastic taste and benefits!
Table of Contents
What is saffron, and where to buy its bulbs?
Saffron is generally used as a food colouring or flavouring and tends to be either yellow, orange or purple. It comes from the saffron crocus bulb, crocus sativus, an autumn blooming crocus. Where do you find this expensive spice? It is added to many curry or spicier dishes, like Spanish paella and bouillabaisse. It’s interesting that the plant’s dried stigmas are picked from the saffron crocus, a plant that can grow up to 30 cm in size. The spice is the red stigmas of this flower. Each flower will produce only 3 stigmas, and each saffron crocus bulb will make only 1 flower.
Will any variety do the job? Saffron crocus isn’t the regular spring-blooming crocus. You’ll need a particular variety, crocus sativus. You can’t just harvest normal spring-blooming crocus’s parts or parts of just any old autumn crocus. Do you want to get your own? You can find saffron crocus bulbs in some small local nursery centres or a reputable online nursery. It’s unlikely that you’ll find them at a big box store or a chain store.
Cultivating proper conditions
Before you start planting, there are some things you need to consider. You should pick the right time and prepare the soil if you want to have good results. There are some things you need to consider before grabbing your gardening tools.
Find a planting location
Find a planting location with full sun and well-draining soil. After you select an area that gets a good amount of direct sunlight, dig into the ground to make sure that it’s not too hard. You need soil that drains effectively since crocus bulbs can die if they become waterlogged. If you need to loosen the earth, you should til it before planting.
Prepare the soil
Prepare your soil with organic matter. You should til the location where you will plant your corms and work organic matter 25 cm deep into the ground. You may use compost, peat, or shredded leaves to provide nutrients for the crocus bulbs to survive through the winter.
Plant your corms in containers as an alternative
If pests are a common problem in your garden, planting in containers would be a good option for you.
- You’ll need plastic milk crates, duct tape, weed cloth, and topsoil.
- Choose a container with drainage holes or add some if it doesn’t have any.
- Line the plastic milk crates with weed cloth and secure them with duct tape.
- Fill the milk crates with about 13 cm of topsoil.
Plant your crocus corms before the ground freezes
To get the best results, plant your bulbs 6-8 weeks before the first deep frost of the season. Depending on the climate of your area, this may be around October or November. You can ask local gardeners or check a farmers’ almanac to determine when to expect the next deep frost in your region.
Step-by-step guide: Planting your saffron corms
It’s now time to add some saffrons to your vegetable garden. Follow this step-by-step guide to get your own saffron flowers you can later harvest and enjoy.
Step 1: Place your crocus corms in clusters
Your flowers will grow better in clusters than when planting them in rows. Plant each crocus approximately 7.5 cm apart from one another, and cluster them in groups of 10-12. If you want to use containers, each milk crate can hold 1 group of 10-12 bulbs.
Step 2: Plant your corms 7.5–10. cm deep
With a trowel, dig small holes approximately 7.5–10 cm deep. Then, position each bulb with its pointy end up, and place 1 in each hole. Cover each bulb with soil.
If you are using containers, place each corm on top of the 13 cm of soil you already added to the container and then cover them with another 5 cm of soil.
Step 3: Water your corms through the fall
Watering plants the right way is always important. Autumn is the best growing season for your bulbs. It is essential to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged during this time. In the beginning, you should water your corms 1-2 times per week. Gauge the moistness of the soil by inserting 2 fingers there several times a week. If the standing water remains for more than a day after watering, then it’s better to decrease the frequency to once a week. Use your garden hose to water 3 times per week if the soil is not moist within the day.
Step 4: Apply fertiliser once per season
If you are in an area with dry summers and warm springs, apply fertiliser and plant food to your bulbs in the early fall. If you live in an area with a temperate, long spring, apply fertiliser to your bulbs right after they flower. That way, your crocus will build up a strong store of carbohydrates to help your plants survive into the next year. Some good fertiliser choices are bonemeal, compost, or aged manure.
Additional saffron care
Although this is an easy-to-care-for plant that doesn’t need a lot of attention or watering, there are some things you can do to help it grow quicker and more efficiently. Find here all you need to know.
Saffron needs a full sun or light shade location. You may be disappointed with the crop if saffron won’t get at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sun during bloom time.
This plant isn’t very picky about soil type. You’ll have the best results if you keep it in a well-draining, loamy and humus-rich type soil.
The sativus crocus variety goes dormant in the late summer. You should not water these plants throughout this period. Since it is typically grown in arid regions, it doesn’t need a lot of watering in general. Once you establish your plants, they can be relatively drought-tolerant and too much moisture may damage or rot the bulbs. If you place them in a place that’s dry, you should water the plants lightly, but, other than this, they can cope with just natural rainfall.
Temperature and humidity
Saffron plants thrive in continental climates, where there’s a definite difference in the seasons. They do best when summers are dry and hot. Too much humidity can be a big problem for this plant. Very harsh, freezing winter conditions can result in poor flowers since the bulbs won’t grow well. You should mulch around the plants with straw or compost to protect them if you expect the temperatures to drop significantly.
It can be advantageous to incorporate an organic fertiliser into the soil when planting saffron crocus bulbs. After you establish them, you could treat them annually with fertiliser, but with the right conditions, they probably won’t require any.
A plant that can’t reproduce by seeds propagates through the multiplication of its bulbs, the corms. As a result, more of them will develop underneath the soil. Every few years, it’s a good idea to dig up the bulbs and separate the old ones from the new ones. When you replant after this, you’ll encourage healthy growth by preventing overcrowding and ensuring that the bulbs remain deep enough in the soil. You can do any replanting in the summer during the dormancy period.
The first year after planting, your saffron plant won’t produce its best bloom. If you want to harvest its stigmas, it’s best to wait until the second or third year. By then, the flowering will likely be optimal. Here is all you need to know when you plan on harvesting saffron.
It is easy to cultivate these flowers. They are naturally hardy and resistant to disease and insects. Keep in mind that each bulb will only produce 1 flower, and each flower will grow only 3 saffron stigmas. At the end of the harvest, you’ll wind up with a tiny bit of usable saffron.
Although purple flowers will appear 6-8 weeks after planting your bulbs, the whole flowers won’t show up until the following fall, a full year after you plant the bulbs.
Pluck the stigmas from each crocus flower
In each purple crocus flower’s centre, you will find 3 red stigmas. Wait for a dry morning on a sunny day when the flowers will be fully open, and carefully remove these stigmas from each of your crocus blooms using a pair of tweezers or your hands.
Dry and store your saffron
Once you have removed all of the saffron stigmas, lay them out on paper towels in a dry place.
Leave them there for 1-3 days until they are completely dry. You should keep dried saffron in a cool, dry place. You can also store them in an airtight container for up to 5 years.
How to use saffron
Most leading growers, based in Spain and Iran, plant and harvest saffron to sell it as a cooking product for several cuisines worldwide. It is used for soups, rice, baked goods, sauces, desserts and many other dishes. But is this the only way you can use this exotic plant? Keep on reading to find out!
Use saffron in cooking
Saffron spice forms the backbone of several iconic dishes worldwide, like the French Bouillabaisse, and Iranian baked rice Tachin (just to name a few). Here are 3 ways to add saffron to your dishes.
- Crush and soak saffron threads: Crushing and soaking saffron releases the maximum amount of flavour from the threads. Use a mortar and pestle and crush them into a powder. Steep the crushed saffron in warm milk, water, stock, or white wine for 30 minutes. If there is any liquid in your recipe, use a small amount of that liquid. Add the saffron and soaking juices to your recipe when called for.
- Toast the threads: Toasting is especially common for traditional paella recipes. Place your cast-iron skillet on the stove in medium heat and add the saffron threads to the hot skillet. Cook, frequently stirring, for about 2 minutes. Use a mortar and pestle to cool slightly and grind the toasted saffron threads. You may soak this powder or add it directly to the recipe.
- Crumble and add directly: It is not ideal, but you can crumble and add the saffron’s threads directly to your dish while you cook it if the recipe calls for a large amount of liquid.
Saffron in cosmetics & medicine
While saffron is most commonly used in baking and cooking, it can also be used for cosmetic or medicinal purposes. For many centuries, even from the Ancient Romans, it is mentioned that it is sedative, antispasmodic, expectorant, and aphrodisiac. Before using it for non-culinary purposes, it is best to research the effects of saffron thoroughly. Here are some of its known benefits:
- Saffron is rich in carbohydrates, potassium and protein, but should only be consumed in small quantities of 20-30 grams max.
- Topical applications of saffron are used to clear and lighten skin.
- Saffron milk is a tasty beverage, also commonly believed to help brighten your complexion when you enjoy it several times a week.
Did you think that saffron is just an expensive, exotic spice? Now that you know that it is an easy-to-grow plant, you can have it on your homestand without spending a fortune! Follow our instructions and enjoy the many benefits of this unique plant!