The cultivating of Saffron (Crocus sativus), is possible in central Washington and was introduced to me by a local friend as a novelty herb/spice. Unlike our first of spring crocus which can peek-a-boo even out of the snow in February; this species emerges to flower in late September to early November. The lilac colored flowers hold the secret. It is the three threads of the stigma (pollen receiving part of the flower pistil) that are harvested to obtain this unique spice. It is described as imparting a floral and earthy aroma. The flowers are hand- picked and then the delicate reddish threads are tweezer removed and immediately air dried for several days before storage in air tight small containers. Only the true Saffron crocus has the orange to rust colored threads. On a price per pound basis, this is the world’s most expensive spice. Consider, about 75,000 flowers are needed to produce one pound of dried reddish threads. Major production is in Spain, Portugal, France India and Iran, where the hand picking is mostly by women. Saffron is used as a flavoring (or can release yellowish coloring) agent to teas or food dishes as Spanish Paellas, Arroz con Pollo, or various Persian dishes, or even a golden glow ice cream. To cook with the strands, they are soaked (whole or ground) in warm liquid for 20 minutes before introduction to the food dish. Other uses have been as a yellow dye color to textiles, and for a variety of medicinal treatments. Experience with this spice reportedly is known even as far back as 1,500 years B.C. Accounts accredit Alexander the Great with valuing it for some medicinal value. Since Saffron crocus is adapted to zone six or more mild climes; it may be the novelty you are searching for in 2020. It will flourish in full sun in a zone not overly moist, on a medium fertile soil. Planting can be in groups or as a border, or in raised beds for easier weeding and flower picking! If gophers or voles are a problem, the placement can be in buried clay pots to protect the corms. Since planting dates are in in August for a fall bloom, this works well for those of us behind schedule with the spring planted flowers! Typically, the number of first year flowers will be few, but do increase in subsequent years. If you can use this spice or intend to, around 150 to 200 corms are suggested, but more modest starter packages of 20 to 40 can be obtained for about a dollar per corm (think bulb). The source I will be ordering from this summer is Eden Brothers (www.edenbrothers.com). They in turn, ship to deliver in the best planting time frame. If you undertake this type of project, one merited suggestion is for a determined effort to have extra production for a cause. This can be a labor of love carefully harvesting the threads, and sealing into small air-tight bottles to share to friends from hands of love. No wonder it's highly valued, as the effort speaks to such and yet it is something that is easy to get the beginner gardener right on track this coming year. How amazing to think God could impart all these special attributes in to a small flower structure, and guide someone’s mind to discover such varied unique uses. Oh the garden is such an amazing place!
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