Saffron

Our rating
1 smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.

What is it?

Saffron is a spice which comes from a Mediterranean flower called Crocus Sativus. Saffron is most commonly used as a cooking ingredient and a food colouring. It is also used as a treatment in traditional Chinese and Middle Eastern medicine. Usually, the middle part (stigma) of the flower is used. Sometimes the petals are used as they cost less.

How does it work?

Some scientists believe saffron can boost chemicals in the brain that can affect mood (serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine). It is thought that increasing these chemicals can be helpful in treating depression.

Is it effective?

There is some scientific evidence on saffron for the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

A recent review of studies that looked at the effectiveness of saffron for treating depression found that in many studies, saffron was more effective than a placebo, and similarly effective to antidepressant medication. More large studies are needed to better understand the effectiveness of saffron for depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

Side-effects of saffron can include nausea, anxiety, headache, and changes in appetite. Saffron has been found to have more side-effects than placebo treatments, but fewer side effects than antidepressant medication.

Dietary supplements, including saffron, may have negative interactions with prescribed medications or other supplements. They should always be taken under the supervision of a health care professional.

Where do you get it?

Saffron can be bought from a chemist in capsule form. You can also buy saffron from health food stores and naturopaths.

Recommendation

Saffron appears to be a promising treatment for mild to moderate depression. Further research and larger trials are needed.

Key references

  • Dwyer AV, Whitten DL, Hawrelak JA. Herbal medicines, other than St. John's Wort, in the treatment of depression: a systematic review. Alternative Medicine Review. 2011; 16: 40-9.
  • Lopresti, AL & Drummond PD. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2014; 29(6), 517-527.
  • Sarris J, Panossian A, Schweitzer I, Stough C, Scholey A. Herbal medicine for depression, anxiety and insomnia: A review of psychopharmacology and clinical evidence. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011; 21: 841-860.
  • Shafiee M, Arekhi S, Omranzadeh A, & Sahebkar A. Saffron in the treatment of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders: Current evidence and potential mechanisms of action. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2018; 227, 330-337.

Last updated and reviewed: 1 May 2019