I have gypsy blood coursing through my veins as we speak.
Technically gypsies are Romani people.
There are 3 million speakers of the Romani language. Contrary to popular belief, gypsies aren’t just people who are dirty nomads and beggars; they are savvy, self-sufficient, and connected with the earth and the world around them. They are artists. They are a real demographic (which still exists and has sub-branches). They live primarily in Central and Eastern Europe. Many gypsy folk may have a proclivity toward singing, dancing, painting, beadwork and cooking. They’ll be the first people to find mushrooms on a mushroom hunt, the first to find fallen bird nests, and the first to have a butterfly land on their fingers.
Because of their closeness with the world around them, they developed remedies for many ailments using only natural elements. Gypsies used to cure allergies and colds with a wash made of spring or well water and saffron. During the application the following is recited:
Oh dukh ándrál yákhá
Já ándré páñi
Já andrál páñi
Já andrál pçuv
Odoy hin cerçá,
Odoy ja te ça.”
Oh, pain from the eyes
Go into the water,
Go out of the water
Into the saffron,
Go out of the saffron
Into the earth.
To the Earth-Spirit.
There’s thy home.
There go and eat.
The Romani understood that the entire spirit and all the energy of the Earth and the Sun channeled into the growing of saffron and the circulation of water.
From ancient times, saffron, as one of the earliest flowers of spring, because of its color, was associated with magic and love.
As it turns out, saffron has a worldwide history. It is associated with a complex system of political control and economic prestige. It has a medicinal—and sexual—history in both mythology and folklore. It contains a fascinating chemical composition and color science…in many religions and belief systems around the globe.
If I had a palace made of pearls, inlaid with jewels, scented with musk, saffron and sandalwood, a sheer delight to behold—seeing this, I might go astray and forget You, and Your Name would not enter into my mind.
-Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Saffron comes from the stamens of the crocus flower. It is expensive, and a rigorous process of quality control comes with the process of harvesting, inspecting, exporting and selling saffron.A worker harvests saffron crocuses in Bardeskan, Iran.
Almost all the saffron in the world grows in an area that lies in a belt from the Mediterranean in the west, to Iran and Kashmir in the east. The flowers (crocuses) are purple, and the saffron is red and yellow when used for dye. Accordingly, the word saffron comes from the Arabic word zafaran (yellow) and the Greek word Krokus (the God who was killed and from whose blood the first crocus flower grew).
It is used in Indian, Persian, European, Arab and Turkish cuisines. In India and China, it is used for fabric dye. Today, its most common use is in foods, but it is known to have medicinal qualities as well.
Because of the process required in harvesting the saffron, it is expensive. It takes thousands of flowers to produce one pound of the spice…and saffron costs about $1,500 per pound in the United States right now.
Because of its beauty and the demand for saffron since its discovery, it has maintained its status as the sexiest and most seductive spice in the world for centuries.
In Egypt, Queen Cleopatra used it before any meetings with men because it was considered an aphrodisiac. In addition, Zeus slept on a bed made of saffron, and Roman families would sprinkle it on the beds of new couples. Roman women also used it as mascara and to dye robes.
People have died because of saffron. There was even a fourteen week war because of it!
Alexander the Great would soak himself and his soldiers in baths of saffron water because he thought it cured ailments. The beginning of the Crusades kept the best and purest saffron from reaching Europe, so saffron was exported from elsewhere. The demand for saffron was so great that it led to a conflict among noblemen and saffron merchants. When a group of noblemen seized a shipment of saffron, a fourteen week long war occurred. The shipment was returned, but pirates started to realize that they could make more money from plundering saffron than they could from plundering gold.
Finally, saffron is one of the official colors of Buddhism. Monks’ robes include the color, and shrine offerings include saffron water.
This practice, called “Lotusing the Stupa” is a practice done monthly at the Boudha Stupa, in Nepal. The people who do this practice make prayers before they start, and great blessings and symbolism are associated with this offering:
Now, go make some Saffron Olive Oil Cookies. Or sprinkle the stuff on your bed…ooh la la!
Willard, Pat. Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World’s Most Seductive Spice. Boston: Beacon, 2001. Print.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photos: Wikimedia Commons via Rainer Zenz & Alamout