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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last updated and reviewed: 1 May 2019