I am currently on an organic saffron farm in the Marche region. Saffron is known as the world’s most costly spice, made from the dried stigmas of the crocus flower (Crocus sativus) Although often thought of as native to Southeast Asia, the cultivation of saffron most likely originated in Crete during the Minoan period. The ideogram for saffron is recognized in Linear B tablets (1450 BCE), documenting large amounts of saffron either cultivated or gathered from the wild. Frescos in Knossos also depict saffron gatherers.


COUNTING THREADS. SAFFRON IN AEGEAN BRONZE AGE WRITING AND SOCIETY, Jo Day, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 30(4), 369-391, 2011

The spice is a valuable agricultural product, in the past and today, because of its variety of uses. It adds flavor to a variety of dishes, is used medicinally, and is a powerful coloring agent for skin, hair, and cloth. The production methods have not changed significantly since those early times and this explains the high price of saffron.


Crocus sativus does not grow in the wild, but derived from the Mediterranean plant Crocus cartwrightianus. The reason why it needs to be cultivated is because the crocus does not produce useful seeds. The corms, the underground bulb-like part of the plant must be dug up, broken apart, and planted again. The flowering period is in the fall. To harvest the stigmas and obtain high quality saffron, the flowers need to be picked before dawn when the flowers are still closed.


Right now is the time to dig up the corms…