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. It is 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 depression.

Is it effective?

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

Two studies have compared saffron with pills that do not have active ingredients (placebos). Saffron was found to be more effective than the placebo in these studies.

Three studies have compared saffron with antidepressants. Saffron was found to be as effective as antidepressants. In one study, saffron petals were compared with saffron stigma. Each were effective in the reduction of mild to moderate depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

Some supplements can be harmful or ineffective if you take the wrong dose. Talk to your health care professional if you are thinking of taking supplements.

It is not clear whether the studies looked for negative effects. One study reported a trend toward an increased appetite for participants in the saffron group. More research is needed on possible disadvantages of saffron.

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.


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.
  • 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.

Last updated and reviewed: 16 March 2015