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.


The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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.

An umbrella review of seven other reviews of studies found some evidence that saffron is effective for reducing depression symptoms compared to a placebo, and similarly effective to antidepressant medication. However, this was not the case for studies where depression was measured using a different assessment tool.

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.


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

Key references

  • Dai L, Chen L, Wang W. Safety and Efficacy of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for Treating Mild to Moderate Depression A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 2020; 208(4):269-76.
  • Gianfranco T, Giulia M, Alessia S. Saffron for mood improvement in children and adolescents: a narrative review. Journal of Pediatric and Neonatal Individualized Medicine. 2022; 11(2):e110222-e.
  • Khaksarian M, Behzadifar M, Behzadifar M, Alipour M, Jahanpanah F, Re TS, et al. The efficacy of Crocus sativus (Saffron) versus placebo and Fluoxetine in treating depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Psychology Research and Behavior Management. 2019; 12:297-305.
  • 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.
  • Marx W, Lane M, Rocks T, Ruusunen A, Loughman A, Lopresti A, et al. Effect of saffron supplementation on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews. 2019; 77(8):557-71.
  • Musazadeh V, Zarezadeh M, Faghfouri AH, Keramati M, Ghoreishi Z, Farnam A. Saffron, as an adjunct therapy, contributes to relieve depression symptoms: An umbrella meta-analysis. Pharmacological Research. 2022;175:105963-

Last updated and reviewed: 11 August 2023