Enter Saffron

Saffron, Crocus sativus, that most precious of spices has begun blooming and is ready for harvesting in the Fairegarden.

It was in October of 2008 that we first wrote about growing saffron in the home garden. Click here to read Mad About Saffron.

Since those first dozen bulbs were planted, blooming well the second year in the ground, there have been adjustments made to fine tune the method of growing enough saffron to be able to actually taste it in a meal.

In 2009, there was foliage but only one or two flowers. Research was done to find out what was wrong and how to fix it. What we found was that the tiny bulbs will multiply very quickly, choking themselves out. Also we learned that a much sunnier spot was needed to better ripen the foliage that lasts over the winter into spring. It dislikes competition from other plants, too.

So the executive decision was made to clear a dedicated spot in the veggie bed for growing saffron. The bulbs were dug and divided and planted singly, about six inches apart. The total bulb harvest had grown to eighty. They were planted in neat rows.

The next two years, 2010 and 2011 there was foliage only, but more of it in the latter year along with two flowers. That brings us to the third year after the division and replant, 2012. It looks good!

To harvest the useable part of the flower, the red stigmas, I dispensed with the tweezers and used the handy dandy thumbnail. After putting the camera down. Two hands are needed, one to hold the flower open and the other to pinch free the base of the red stigmas.

It is best to wait until the flowers are fully open, around noon, and the innards are dry. The threads can be used at anytime, but will also keep well in a dry, airtight container. Above are the ones harvested in 2011, not enough to use then but they will now be added to the 2012 cache. It takes fourteen thousand stigmas to make one ounce of saffron.

The plan for use will be a savory rice dish of some kind, with vegetables. It will be yummy. The moral of the story is if you want to grow saffron crocus to eat, it is best to forget about using the ornamental value of a pretty fall blooming bulb as a garden design element and treat is as a perennial vegetable, or spice crop. Or that is the way it is being treated here, as an attractive edible.


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18 Responses to Enter Saffron

  1. Thanks for this post Francis – now I understand why Saffron is so costly – not exactly the easiest or fastest spice to grow and harvest. Your photos are, as always, gorgeous!

    Hi Christine, thanks. I understand very well how saffron is such a costly spice, and cannot imagine how it is harvested at all. It is back breaking to bend over those tiny plants to extract the stigmas, not to mention just getting those tiny bulbs to flower at all after the initial flowering. Still a learning curve here.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You often put a song with a post. I was thinking about the song with the line “I’m just mad about Saffron. She’s just mad about me”… but I couldn’t remember the artist. Have a great weekend.

    Mad About Saffron was the title of the first post I wrote about growing these little bulbs, written by Donovan. The link is in the first caption, but it was written before I learned how to put a music video in the post. You too, have a great weekend.

  3. Mark and Gaz says:

    Well done on getting to grow Saffron Crocus in your garden! A relatively expensive spice, so it’s handy you’re able to grow and harvest some from your own plot 🙂

    Thanks Mark and Gaz. It is fun to experiment with growing food here. Sometimes it proves too difficult, but we are getting a harvest this year, finally.

  4. gail says:

    Such a pretty little flower! Must remember to add this to my list, chipmunks be danged! I make a tasty rice dish with saffron, the color is beautiful after it bakes. Love the Donovan song and must listen to more of them this AM. xoxogail

    Hi Gail, thanks. Do you remember that it is when you were visiting here that we added the first saffron harvest to the rice/chicken dish? It tasted good, as I remember it.

  5. Julie Adolf says:

    Frances, what perfect timing! My saffron bulbs just arrived, and your post is exactly what I needed. I would have planted them in a charming little border with violas and such, but now knowing saffron doesn’t like competition, it will either be planted in the potager or a dedicated portion of a raised bed in the large kitchen garden. Now, I’m off to read your first post for more information. (Spectacular photos, as always.) Thank you for sharing!

    Hi Julie, thanks. I wish I had known more about the saffron crocus when first adding them to the garden here. I was thinking more about putting them where I would notice them more rather than harvesting a useable spice. The Crocus speciousus are better for the viola, charming treatment and are reliable at returning without any extra fussing with. Good luck with your saffron harvest!

  6. Do the stigmas need to be dried before they can be used? I think that is the way I have gotten them in the store. Or is it just that drying is necessary to make them easily shipped? Is fresh saffron, like fresh basil, better than dried?

    I do not believe that the stigmas MUST be dried, but they dry within a day so that is the way one would find it for sale. Other than using it straight from the garden, there would be no way to have fresh saffron. Those stigmas are very tiny, like threads, even fresh, not really comparable to basil.

  7. Hi Frances
    Thank you so much for this post. I just planted a whole bunch of these Crocus in a sunny spot that can be viewed from my kitchen window well seperated from other bulbs. I had been thinking of what I could plant “above” them to give earlier interest…. Now, I will probably dig them up and put them in their own bed in my vegetable garden next spring… Kind of sounds like growing asparagus! Your pictures are beautiful though. You post has made me wonder how many stigma’s will it take to season a four person serving of rice?

    Hi Kate, thanks for visiting. I am glad you planted your saffron wisely initially, unlike me! As fow how many stigmas, I would say use whatever you have, all of it, in one dish.

  8. Randy says:

    I’m happy to see you saffron is doing so well! :0)

    Hi Randy, thanks. I was a little worried when there were no flowers for a couple of years, but this year there was a harvest, a few at a time, for they do not all open at once.

  9. kwgarden@gmail.com says:

    Really interesting. I think I might try growing saffron. Thank you again for all the information and wonderful photography.

    Thanks KW. Do give it a try, even if you don’t harvest the saffron, the flowers are quite pretty.

  10. My Kids Mom says:

    I ordered some last spring and thought it would arrive in time to grow for this fall. But it didn’t come until September and hasn’t even sprouted yet. So clearly no harvest this year. I haven’t given the plants that much space and I’m unable to give them as much sun as you, so we’ll just have to wait to see if I get anything ever. Fortunately gardeners are patient people. It will be a fun experiment regardless.

    Good luck with your saffron crocus, Jill. I moved mine to a sunny spot after a few seasons, you can always move yours later, too, to a sunny dedicated place.

  11. Carolyn says:

    My husband lived in France for two years before we were married. While there he acquired quite a taste for saffron that he has passed on to me… love it! But it is sooo expensive. I was thrilled to read your post anxious to learn how to grow my own. Thanks for sharing this Frances… very well done. But honestly, that is a ton of work to spice up a meal. While my heart is willing, I think I may just end up enjoying the process through your posts.

    Hi Carolyn, what fun to live in France, lucky guy! Right now, it seems that I am only having to go through the harvest every three years. I am going to leave the bulbs alone this year and see what happens with the flower production next year. It is just for fun, I would hate to make a living doing it! My garden is not large enough.

  12. Marcia says:

    We are great fans of saffron. One of our favorite comfort foods is saffron rice. I’ve had saffron brought to me from Spain by a niece and more recently my daughter bought it for me in China. At one time it was more expensive than gold but don’t know if that’s the case now with gold prices what they are. My older daughter in NH has tried growing it but don’t know what success she has had. I sent her a link to this blog entry to read about your efforts.

    Hi Marcia, thanks for adding to the conversation. Saffron is an ancient and interesting spice. I knew little about it before ordering the bulbs to plant, but thought the flowers were pretty. Even with 80 clumps of it there is only enough for one dish to be made. I hope your daughter has good luck with hers, thanks for sharing the post.

  13. Lola says:

    A beautiful little flower. I’m so glad you have it growing. I’m sure your rice dishes are wonderful. Or any dish that calls for the saffron.

    Hi Lola, thanks. The saffron does add some good flavor to the food it is added to, and pretty color, too.

  14. Shady gardener says:

    Hi, Frances. As always, your post is educational; offering advice from your first-hand experiences. This was no exception! It’s a “keeper!”. 🙂

    Hi Shady, thanks for those kind words, such a high compliment!

  15. Rose says:

    No wonder saffron is so expensive–14, 000 stimas, wow! Your perseverance has paid off, Frances; it looks like you have a bumper crop. I’m not sure I’ve even tasted saffron to know if I like it, but “I’m just mad about saffron…” is going through my mind.

    Hi Rose, thanks. Saffron is good, most often used with rice. I believe you would like it. I used that song title for my first post about it, the only way that some people have ever even heard of saffron! HA

  16. cheryl says:

    Wow Frances! Congratulations on your treasure trove. I wasn’t aware saffron could be grown on this side of the ocean. The first photo is stunning, such colour. Thank you and bonnie appetitie 🙂

    Hi Cheryl, thanks so much. The pickin’s are still not gushing, but the harvest was much better this time. I will continue to divide and conquer!

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