The Healthiest Way to Enjoy Saffron

Sun Tea–A Double Shot of Sunshine

Likened to liquid sunshine, saffron tea is luminous, golden and uplifting. It’s smooth with a subtle floral flavor and the delicate lift that it gives makes me reach for it often. It’s the anticipation of that lift that has me setting a shot glass filled with water and a pinch of saffron in a sunny window for a while. Saffron sun tea is that easy to make, and letting the sun do the brewing yields its maximum medicinal mileage, as high heat denatures some of saffron’s bioactive compounds.

Left. Saffron that has steeped for 2 minutes. Right: Saffron tea. Center: a generous pinch of saffron
Left: saffron steeped for 2 minutes.
Right: saffron sun tea. Center: a pinch of saffron

Saffron has a historical record for boosting the immune system, and current laboratory studies reveal the same. While saffron by itself isn’t a cure all, it helps address the root of the problem—from depression to cancer, digestion to vision problems, memory loss to insomnia and more. Google a health concern along with the word “saffron” and odds are that your screen will display a number of scientific studies on the efficacy of saffron.

Saffron is the crimson stigma, a flower’s female reproductive part, from a crocus variety (Crocus sativus) that flowers in the fall and is hand harvested. Each small blossom produces three thread-like stigmas and that are carefully plucked and hand harvested which explains the high price of saffron. Each stigma attaches to the blossom with a short yellow style. Some quality saffron brands include the style; while in others the pale colored styles were hand removed to yield a more labor-intensive and pricier product that is also more medicinal. Examine saffron closely for if yellow or yellow orange areas appear in irregular parts of the threads, the product has been died.

Yes, because saffron is one of the most expensive herbs, it has a long history of being adulterated with other ingredients. For that reason, I suggest leaving the packaged saffron tea blends, extracts and capsules on the market shelf unless you have unequivocal faith that the manufacturer uses only pure saffron.

Saffron varies widely in quality and strength. There’s no standardization of saffron quality, and each country has different grading standards. But you can easily tell by examining the saffron or by finding an online company that includes a lab report of its product. Look for 3/4-inch, brittle evenly colored crimson red threads with no other color (unless it contains yellow styles on the blossom end) and with a strong fresh aroma that has no trace of mustiness.

Saffron sun tea is safe. There are multiple online reports that incorrectly claim that the Centers for Disease Control found a harmful bacteria (Alcaligenes viscolactis) in sun tea; however, the CDC database has no such reference, as you can easily see for yourself by doing a search on their site. Common sense tells me that water and a pinch of saffron made potent by the sun is healthful. If you concur, I’ll pour you a shot. Bottoms up!

Saffron Sun Tea

I enjoy saffron sun tea as a tonic. While you can scale up the recipe to make any amount you wish, enjoying fresh batches ensures the greatest potency. As some of saffron’s properties are hydrophobic, adding a splash of wine will assist the extraction.  I tend to use it in cycles and enjoy it daily for a week or so and then I set it aside a while. Make yourself a shot whenever you’re in the mood or when the sun is out.

Yield: 1 shot (3 tablespoons)

Small pinch of saffron threads (3 to 4 threads)
3 tablespoons water
Splash of wine or other spirit (optional)

Place the saffron in a clear shot glass and add the water (and, optionally, a splash of wine). Cover loosely and set in a sunny window (or outdoors in the sun, or indoors under a full spectrum light) for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours. Strain out the threads or keep them in your tonic if you like. Sip and savor. (To make one cup, add one big pinch, 12 or more threads, to 8 ounces water.)

Doses of up to 1.5 grams of saffron per day are thought to be safe; toxic effects have been reported at 5 grams. Pregnant women are advised to avoid high doses.

3 Responses to The Healthiest Way to Enjoy Saffron

  1. i don’t understand the saffron sun tea recipe do you brew it in 3 tablespoons of water and then add more water to make a cup or is the 3 tablespoons an error?

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