There are many herbs and spices that elevate a dish but the king of them all may be saffron. Bright red, this spice is hard to find and when it is available, you will have to pay a pretty penny for it.
Where does saffron grow: Saffron typically grows in Greece, Iran, Morocco, and India. It needs a warm climate with well-drained soil and winters that don’t get too cold. However, you can actually harvest saffron in your own backyard garden. Go online to find the right crocus bulbs, called Crocus sativus. Plant them in your garden and wait for the flowers to bloom in the fall. Then, harvest the inner red threads, which make up saffron. These are quite delicate and need to be dried and stored properly, away from sunlight, right away.
What is saffron?
So often we purchase spices when they are in a smaller, often powder state. However, it’s important to know where these come from and what they actually look like while still in plant form.
Saffron comes from the Crocus sativus flower, a bright purple flower that grows in the Middle East and the Mediterranean areas. In the middle of this flower are long, bright red threads, which make up the saffron spice.
Why is saffron expensive?
Unlike other spices, which are essentially seeds, berries, or leaves, saffron comes from a very small part of its plant. The thin threads of the Crocus sativus plant are small, which makes harvesting them quite labor-intensive.
Furthermore, each flower only produces three of these threads, once a year. This means that a whole lot of flowers need to be grown in order to produce enough saffron for a harvest.
When harvesting these threads, it needs to be done by hand, so you then need to pay the high cost of laborers.
Additionally, saffron is only harvested in the mid-morning. At this time, the crocus flower is closed to protect the threads so a person has to then gently open the flowers to gather the saffron.
Saffron is sold by weight and as a result is usually the most expensive spice for purchase, according to weight. To give you an idea of what goes into the whole harvest, one ounce of saffron relies on 1,000 flowers.
Where does saffron grow naturally?
Although you can now find saffron in most local stores, it only grows in certain areas around the world. This includes areas in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas.
Saffron originally grew only in Greece but you can now find it in Iran, Morocco, and India.
Where is the best place to plant saffron?
Looking at where saffron naturally grows, there are a few circumstances that lead to it thriving. The climate must be dry and arid but still have soil that has enough nutrients to support the flower.
The winter temperatures cannot be too cold and the summer heat should be quite warm.
Now that you know the ideal climate to grow saffron, you may be wondering if you can grow the crocus flowers that produce it. The answer is yes, you can, although there are many steps to take in order to see you succeed in this endeavor.
How to Choose the Best Spot to Grow Saffron
Step 1 – Plant in the fall
Unlike regular crocus flowers that bloom in the spring, the saffron crocus is actually ready in the fall. You should plant them in late summer or early fall and can then expect them to emerge from the soil six to eight weeks later.
However, with your first planting, you probably will not get any flowers. Instead, expect to see your plants emerge but just have foliage. The following year, your flowers (and your saffron threads) will be ready.
Step 2 – Full sun
In order for your saffron crocuses to thrive, they need to be planted in full sun. Make sure there are no overhanging tree branches or that the ground doesn’t become too cluttered with leaves as your little bulbs start to spout.
Step 3 – Soil
Saffron crocuses need soil that drains well; otherwise, the bulbs can quickly become water-logged and start to rot. Make sure the soil is sandy or loamy to encourage drainage.
Once you plant your bulbs, they will remain in the soil, even over winter, so proper drainage is key, especially as the soil will become quite damp in the spring.
Step 4 – Moderate watering
After you plant your crocus bulbs, you can give the area good watering. However, don’t overdo the watering as the bulbs grow.
Some areas have wet falls while other places can be quite dry, so adjust your watering accordingly. The ground should be moist but not saturated with water.
After your crocuses flower and you harvest the threads, you do not need to water over the winter, as the bulbs become dormant.
During springtime, there should be enough water in the area but you may want to water around your bulbs in the summer if it is specially dried out. However, you don’t need to be too worried when the bulbs are dormant.
Step 5 – Fertilizer
When you place your crocus bulbs in the ground, you should sprinkle a bit of bone meal in the holes. This will give your bulbs the nutrients they need as they first start to grow.
You can then add compost around your crocus area but be careful not to disturb the bulbs or the root system, even when they are dormant.
Tips to Grow Saffron
Tip 1 – Find the right crocus bulbs
The very first step in planting anything is finding the right flowers. In this case, you want to find the Crocus sativus bulbs.
Although it is easy to find common crocus bulbs, you will not be able to simply go to your local gardening store and plant these. Instead, you will have to order them online.
Always make sure you do your research for this step. Talk to the company and make sure it is legitimate; otherwise, you might just find yourself overpaying for basic flowers.
Tip 2 – Make sure you are in the right hardiness zone
As most gardeners may be aware, there are different hardiness zones that alert you to what plants will grow in what temperatures. This tells you the minimum temperature your plants can be exposed to before they die.
For saffron crocuses, the ideal hardiness zones are 6 to 10. Essentially, as long as your winter temperatures are above -10 degrees Fahrenheit, then you can leave your bulbs in the ground and now worry.
Just remember that you don’t want to take too many chances and if your winters sometimes dip below this temperature, there is a significant chance that the bulbs won’t make it.
Tip 3 – Let your plants die back
Once you have your crocus flowers in full bloom, it’s time to harvest the inner saffron threads. Be careful as you don’t want your hard work to go to waste.
Gently cut the blossom off in the middle of the morning to remove the threads. You can then leave the rest of the flowers intact and keep them as a pretty bouquet.
After harvesting, leave the rest of the plant in your garden. Even though you don’t need the plant anymore, the crocus bulb does.
Leaving the foliage to die back on its own means the bulb, also known as a corm, can store much-needed nutrients and be ready to grow again the following year.
Interestingly, if you leave your bulbs in the ground, they might actually grow and develop ‘daughter’ bulbs. You can leave these new bulbs in the ground or dig them up and plant them elsewhere in your garden.
Tip 4 – Store properly
Now that you have waited patiently for your crocus flowers to bloom, it’s time to harvest and store your saffron. Be sure to decide if you will use your saffron immediately or want to store it for later.
Saffron will degrade quickly, so it can only be used fresh for about 24 hours. If you don’t plan on using it right away, it is best to dry it for year-round use.
Place your saffron on a paper towel and put it on a table or shelf in the shade. It will dry out in about three days.
You can then store your dried saffron in an airtight container such as a jar. Keep it out of direct sunlight as this will quickly degrade it.
Is saffron an easy plant to grow?
Overall, the crocus that creates saffron is fairly easy to grow. It blooms in the fall and the bulbs can be left in the ground during the winter.
The hardest part is ensuring you harvest your saffron when it is ready and then dry and store it properly so that you can use it when you want to.
Saffron is a spice that is often worth more than gold. While it grows in naturally Mediterranean areas, it can actually be grown in your own garden so that you have a fun, and inexpensive way of accessing this colorful spice.