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Saffron: The Spice More Precious Than Gold

Yatheendradas C.k. at 03:01 PM - Nov 04, 2014 ( ) Views: 540

Saffron: The Spice More Precious Than Gold

What is the costliest spice in the world? If you haven’t guessed it yet, it is saffron. One kg of saffron costs `1,20,000. One gram of saffron costs `120. In comparison, one gram of silver costs around `34. Saffron is roughly hundred times more expensive than pepper and fifty times more expensive than cardamom. This spice from Kashmir is indeed India’s most cherished spice. Saffron is the dried stigma of the beautiful purple crocus flower. Each flower has three vivid crimson stigmas which are painstakingly collected and dried. Ninety per cent of the world’s saffron is from Iran while Kashmir accounts for only 8 per cent. The quality of saffron depends on whether the stigma is sold along with the style. The stigma is the reddest part of the flower and contains the maximum amount of volatile compounds.

Ayurveda zeroed in on this spice to make a wonderful tailam to be used on the face called kumkumadi tailam. One of the main ingredients of the tailam is saffron. Saffron contains nearly 150 compounds including terpenes, terpene alcohols and their esters. Saffron contains a compound called crocin (nothing to do with the popular drug). Crocin is responsible for the colour while lycopene and safranal are responsible for the aroma. The health promoting properties of saffron can be attributed to crocin which is a unique water soluble carotenoid compound with powerful antioxidant properties. Saffron is said to have anti-cancer properties and is useful in improving blood circulation. Regular use of saffron as a beauty aid improves circulation (in the face) and is anti-blemish and anti-aging agent. It makes the skin several shades lighter.

So our yogis and vaidyars decided to include saffron as one of the main ingredients in kumkumadi tailam for application on the face. The other ingredients are chandana or sandalwood, laksha or the resinous exudation of the lac insect, manjishta (Rubia cordifolia), licorice, bark of the banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis), plaksha (Ficus lacor), pollen of lotus and the Dashamoola herbs some of the important ones being Oroxylum indicum, Gmelina arborea, Stereospermum suaveolens, Desmodium gangeticum, Solanum indicum, vilvam (Aegle marmelos), agnimantha (Premna mucronata).

Kumkumadi tailam is fantastic for the face and imparts a youthful look. I have been looking for chemical-free cosmetics and I was happy to discover it from Ayurvedic texts. The only issue is whether the oil is prepared using real saffron. One needs to buy it from reputed producers or make it. I haven’t tried making it but I was told that it is not very complicated.

Along with substituting chemical cosmetics, I have now stopped using soap for washing hands, face etc. I took an old glass jam bottle, made holes on the lid and filled the jar with lightly roasted greengram flour and a bit of powdered kasthuri manjal. I added a spoon of whole roasted rice to it so that it shakes out easily. I have become quite addicted to the smell.

I was gifted a pack of shikakai this Deepavali. This strengthened my resolve to use shikakai instead of shampoo. The powder had been ground so well that it hardly left any residue and the smell of herbal hair oil and shikakai lingered long after my bath.

For the sake of nostalgia, I dried my hair using sambrani (benzoin resin) burnt over embers. When buying sambrani one has to buy that which is obtained from the bark of several trees belonging to the genus Styrax. Life was natural 75 years ago but we have now made it artificial. It takes so much effort to enjoy the wholesome goodness of natural food and everyday products that our grandparents took for granted.

The writer is retired Addl Chief Secretary, Govt of Tamil Nadu.


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Raju Sharma at 03:48 PM - Nov 04, 2014 ( )

Nice one...

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