Growing Saffron

A few months ago I was watching a news segment on saffron growing in England. England?? I always thought of saffron being grown in places like Spain and Iran. The segment got me thinking. I could probably grow saffron in California. After all, our climate is similar to Spain and Italy. The only reason we don't seem to grow huge crops here is the cost of the labor to harvest the tiny saffron stems. That doesn't mean you can't grow your own though!

Turns out that saffron comes in corms. Corms are different than bulbs, yet similar. I'll let you get the differences of corms/bulbs/rhizomes here. Like bulbs, corms can be pulled from the ground and stored and then replanted again next year.  In the photo above you can see a corm off to the right. 

I purchased my saffron from a seed site on the internet. What you are looking for is crocus sativus, the plant that produces saffron. I got a bag of 25 for about $25. They arrived in late August, just the time that you are supposed to plant them. The flowers come out in October, when you harvest. The plant continues to grow through the winter, but you let them dry out in the spring.

The soil needs to be well draining and should get a lot of sun during the fall. They actually do not want a lot of water. 

I started to see my flowers come up one by one. Each flower has three of the saffron pistils that you pluck out with tweezers. You can pick them out of the flower while it's in the ground, or pluck the flower and then tweeze out the pistils. The pistils are actually attached together at their base, so I like picking the flower and then grabbing the pistils with one pluck at their base. Then you just let them air dry in a warm, dry place. 

Plucking the flowers is a bit sad as they are very pretty flowers. And, it seems, they do not come back with another flower behind it. The good news is that over the years, the corms will multiply so that each year you will have more and more! 

I probably got a gram of saffron this year. Saffron is more expensive than gold and sells for $8 per gram or at least $5,000-$10,000 per pound. Keep in mind that it is also one of the most adulterated food products out there. Fake saffron is made by using corn silks, dying them red, then cutting them to size. 

One should also note that Mexican saffron is not really saffron at all. It is actually safflower... like in safflower oil.

I found this video on growing saffron to be useful.