Savory Saffron

Black Gold

One of the most expensive spices in the world by weight is saffron. And saffron is dried elongated crimson stigmas from the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Each crocus corm produces up to four flowers and each bloom produces only three stigmas. The stigmas and their stalks (i.e., styles) are painstakingly clipped by hand, which accounts for the precious nature of the spice. I was curious if the crocus from which saffron is harvested could be grown in the Northwest. Apparently, it can if you live in USDA zones 5-8 and have a sunny spot with exceptional drainage. In fact, it thrives in a Mediterranean, dry summer climate.

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I didn’t realize the delicate spice was only produced by a special variety of crocus, or that it bloomed in the fall. Unknown in the wild, the saffron crocus was first cultivated in Bronze-age Greece thousands of years ago. According to Wikipedia, Iran now accounts for approximately 90% of the world production of saffron. And according to a Sun Gold blog written by gardening expert Jessie Keith, “Gardeners seeking a reasonable amount of saffron for cookery should start with at least 50 corms… Plant corms at a density of 10 per square foot or simply dot them around a garden bed… Saffron flowers bloom first, typically in mid-October. Next come the long, grassy leaves that remain evergreen through the winter and should be cut back in spring. Be sure not to cut foliage back until it turns brown or else corms won’t store enough fuel for a good flower show the following fall. “She recommends two sources for the saffron crocus corms: Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and White Flower Farm.

Do you have experience growing saffron crocus?

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