How to Cultivate Saffron - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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How to Cultivate Saffron

Freshly Blooming Saffron

The tiny kiss of red is supposed to be the most of the spice that sees the daylight.  The flower is to be picked before it can open.

The tiny kiss of red is supposed to be the most of the spice that sees the daylight. The flower is to be picked before it can open.

Growing the Most Expensive Spice in the World

When I happen to mention that I'm growing my own saffron, most people are really surprised. There's something about the idea of spices that automatically transmits mental images of faraway places and really hot climates. Or something like that.

However, it is a very real fact that in the Pacific Northwest of the USA it is completely possible to grow saffron. Yep, that saffron: the most expensive spice in the whole world.

As a hobby gardener, it's neither difficult nor too expensive to give this a try, so if you are curious, please read on to see how I got started, how to get a saffron bed ready, what growing is like, and when and how to harvest. And let's not forget a few comments on cooking and eating either...

Know Your Saffron Crocus

crocus blossom, photo by Relache

crocus blossom, photo by Relache

You don't want to confuse the saffron crocus for other species. Namely, because the other varietals can be poisonous if eaten. Saffron crocus are known by the Latin name Crocus sativa or Crocus sativus. They bloom in the fall, anywhere from late September to early November depending on your regional climate.

As you are going for a productive crop here, and not just something decorative, these aren't the sorts of bulbs you want to put into containers. They really need more depth and room if they are going to do their spicy thing. Also, they can be damaged by cold over the winter if you have them in pots. Saffron goes dormant in the summer, and you don't have to worry about watering then. You do have to worry if you don't have good drainage as these bulbs can rot if they get too moist during their off-season.

My very first attempt was in a large outdoor container and after planting them a year earlier, and nothing happened! I dug up the container to try and see what happened, but couldn't find a single bulb. Either they rotted away completely, or squirrels dug them up and ate them without leaving a hole in the dirt or any sort of sign. It was an unsatisfactory first year, to say the least.

Just What Makes Saffron So Precious? It's a Spice, a Dye, and a Medicine

Saffron Tutorials

Here are some video guides to the different parts of the saffron growing process. Everybody does it a little bit differently, so it's great to get a few different points of view.

Drying Your Spice Is Super Easy

saffron threads take a few days to dry and go from tiny ribbons to little red threads.

saffron threads take a few days to dry and go from tiny ribbons to little red threads.

Very small measuring spoons

Cooking With Saffron

If there's one thing that's common to just about any recipe where you use saffron, it's that you don't ever use a lot of it. All those teeny-tiny amounts can be confusing to cooks, and a majority of people who cook with this exotic spice most often confess that when it comes to the measuring part, they sort of guess and wing it.

The second you see a recipe that calls for large quantities of saffron, you know you are dealing with something where historically they were using adulterated saffron, some true spice diluted and mixed with fillers.

Never just throw your saffron threads into a dish. This wastes much of the rich flavor. You want to soak the threads in near-boiling water or other liquid for at least 20 minutes. This allows the threads to fully open and release the maximum flavor, scent, and color. If you grind up the threads before soaking, it breaks down the cell structures and allows more of the plant material to interact with the liquid.

How To Use Your Spice

saffron harvest, photo by Relache

saffron harvest, photo by Relache

For most people, growing their own saffron is going to be fun and will bring them a small amount of saffron for their home cooking. If you happen to have acreage, and can cultivate thousands of bulbs, you might consider selling your saffron to restaurants. In order to be able to go into the saffron biz, you need acreage devoted to this tiny flower.

What you see here is the total of my first year's harvest. If I had a kitchen scale that measured tenths or hundredths of a gram, I would be able to tell you exactly what my yield was, but with what I have, the answer is "not even a gram."

It takes somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 flowers to get enough stigmas harvested to make a pound of saffron. The market prices per ounce of saffron are higher than the price for an ounce of gold.

Saffron bulbs do multiply over the years. You will want to dig up the bulbs and split them every three years. Some people choose to replant their crop, expanding the corm patch every few years, while others find that they prefer to sell the bulbs to other interested gardeners.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Rae Schwarz

Anyone Else Growing Saffron or Have a Question About It?

Raphael M Sioni on August 02, 2020:

Im from Papua new Guinea Im interested.

john aisa on April 06, 2018:

I am from Papua New Guinea. Can it be grow in my country.

Muhammad Fawad on February 03, 2017:

I am growing it successfully since past three years

kellyybrownn617 on April 12, 2014:

hello this is great.

ChocolateLily on April 02, 2014:

I would have never thought of growing saffron before reading your lens. Wow! I doubt I will give it a try, but it's really neat.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on April 01, 2014:

@MJ Martin: Be sure to come back, Ruby, and let us know how it worked out for you.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on March 31, 2014:

After reading this helpful lens I am sure going to give it a try. Congrats on Lotd and a purple star too.

norma-holt on March 31, 2014:

Great lens and nicely done information. Congrats on LOTD, well deserved. Growing this spice is not something I would care to do and your instructions are ideal for anyone who would.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@Arachnea: Saffron reblooms each fall.

mansfisa44 on March 31, 2014:

Nice Lense

Tanya Jones from Texas USA on March 31, 2014:

this sounds like a fun project. i have a patch of dirt for which this will be perfect. i wonder if the texas climate will suit. the place i have in mind has a very warm, sunny morning to noonish then is in shade the rest of the day. i'm sorry if i missed it, but once the stigmas are picked from a plant will more grow back with the next growing season? great lens. congrats on lotd.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@strategylab: Well, it IS expensive, but I think I've shown here that is is NOT incredible hard to grow.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@MEDerby: Wow, an Arctic region... I can see why anything would have to be grown indoors.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@DebMartin: Deb, that's totally one of the factors that contributed to my interest in growing it.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@Dressage Husband: My first attempt with saffron (where the bulbs vanished) were ordered from an organic grower in B.C. Canada. So Nova Scotia might be doable, but I think you are right that it will come down to what you can do with soil and drainage.

dahlia369 on March 31, 2014:

Enjoyed your lens, thank you! I've been growing many herbs but it never crossed my mind to grow saffron even though I do use it when cooking soup...

tonnytheviet on March 31, 2014:

This is very helpful for me! Thank you very much!

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@RinchenChodron: I don't know. Some of where saffron grows in the Middle East is pretty rugged actually. I'd suggest you ask around of your local gardening groups and see if anyone has experience or insight.

Jeph Maystruck from Regina, SK on March 30, 2014:

I've heard it's incredibly hard to grow and very expensive on the grocery store shelves. I really wish I could just cook more with it! ha!

M E Derby on March 30, 2014:

Thanks. I live in an arctic region and grow cool stuff inside. Miss my paella!

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@Merrci: My fantasy at this stage of working with saffron is to grow an ounce in one season. I already have to start thinking ahead to how much space I can give these.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@GrammieOlivia: Except for the one month when these bloom, they are much less trouble than anything else I grow in my garden. Most of the year they are dormant.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@Lynn Klobuchar: Lynn, what you planted in your yard and what I planted in mine are actually two different varieties. And in the spring, those crocus are some of the very first fresh greens of spring, not one of many in the harvest season. Animals are way more likely to attack crops when there's nothing else fresh and yummy to nibble.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@JoanieMRuppel54: You know, I don't know. The majority of the saffron in the USA has always been grown by the Amish community in Pennsylvania. You might see if your climate is anything like those regions. Or see if there are any commercial growers in your area. That's how I learned I could grow it where I live.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@MEDerby: No. Saffron crocus are only going to reproduce and thrive in an outdoor location.

M E Derby on March 30, 2014:

Can you grow this indoors?

DebMartin on March 30, 2014:

Wow. Who knew. I didn't even realize saffron came from a crocus. Yet I use it all the time. Thanks for the tips and the knowledge. Even if I never grow my own saffron, it's important to know where those things that are important to you come from.

Shamim Rajabali from Texas on March 30, 2014:

Interesting article.

Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on March 30, 2014:

No, but I was thinking about growing Hascap berries! Seems like I could make more with Saffron if only it could stand Nova Scotia winters. I will have to check to see if I could manage it?

Well done on the LOTD. Only I do have a clay soil so it would probably be too wet!

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on March 30, 2014:

Brilliant! I'm one of those who assumed saffron was grown in some very exotic locale with special permission of - someone. Glad I read this since now I know the truth. Congratulations on your very UUU lens!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 30, 2014:

At one time I had quite a spice garden with a sesame seed plant and elephant garlic among others. Never tried Saffron. Sounds fun! Congrats on LOTD.

anonymous on March 30, 2014:

I'm not much on growing things but this was a very informative lens. Congratulations on getting LotD!

burntchestnut on March 30, 2014:

Excellent article. I did know that saffron came from specific crocus species, but didn't know the details.

Donna Cook on March 30, 2014:

Terrific lens! I didn't know that saffron was a crocus.

TransplantedSoul on March 30, 2014:

Wow - this is expensive stuff! It has such a great delicate, yet distinctive flavour.

amandascloset0 on March 30, 2014:

Great lens! It would pay to grow your own if you can simply to save the expense. If your a gardener like me one more plant type is always welcome.

RinchenChodron on March 30, 2014:

No, but I might give it a try. Do you think Colorado weather is too dry?

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@Lionrhod: Saffron wants really well-drained soil, so that may be a challenge in FL.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 30, 2014:

This makes me want to grow my own saffron. Very interesting. Thanks for the tips and congrats on Lens of the Day!

Merry Citarella from Oregon's Southern Coast on March 30, 2014:

Very interesting lens. Congrats on Lens of the Day! It's amazing how many plants it takes to make one pound. It's probably not grown that widely either because of that! Gosh, when I think of all the work, the huge number of plants, it makes me think it should be priced even higher!

GrammieOlivia on March 30, 2014:

Great tutorial, but I'd rather muck around in the garden than just take care of crocus! It's too much work for me! Congrats on LoTD!

Lynn Klobuchar on March 30, 2014:

I give you lots of credit for managing this. I once planted spring crocuses in my front yard to naturalize. Bunnies ate the shoots down and squirrels dug the corms up. Ah, urban wildlife. Congratulations on LOTD.

Joanie Ruppel from Keller, Texas on March 30, 2014:

A very interesting lens; I never knew saffron could be home grown! Do you think it would work in Texas? We have mild winters and can grow lots of greens over the winter. Congrats on LOTD!

Lionrhod from Orlando, FL on March 30, 2014:

Oh wow! Thanks so much! Hubby and I are major foodies and have been talking about doing this! Not sure if I can get crocus to grow in FL but will have to try anyway.

Heidi Reina from USA on March 30, 2014:

You've really gotten me interested in planting saffron bulbs this year in my raised bed garden. Great tips!

VioletteRose LM on March 30, 2014:

Love the color and flavor of saffron, it is a great ingredient to be used in desserts. I never knew how to grow saffron, thank you so much for sharing this :)

Johanna Eisler on March 29, 2014:

Fascinating. Now I understand why saffron is so expensive! Thank you for the delightful education!

transportmaniac on November 11, 2013:

Growing saffron is like growing rice, it needs right time, right cultivation properties, and the right field. The weather is also important, people usually mistaken the azafran or fake saffron with real saffron which is from Crocus Sativus L, Thanks for the great article here, please read my lens about use of saffron as well thanks.

PlumberJorge on October 30, 2013:

Thanks for this lens. I love saffron too.

kepezzo on October 22, 2013:

50,000 to 70,000 flowers to get a pound !?

will continue to learn writing lenses, would be much faster..

nice lens.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 19, 2013:

@RoadMonkey: You get three stigmas per blossom.

RoadMonkey on October 19, 2013:

I have only once ever bought saffron, it was like buying gold - maybe even more expensive! But looking at where it comes from and how it is harvested, it's not really surprising. I always thought it was the pollen (anthers) producing part of the crocus but now I see it is actually the stigma that is picked - only one per plant - it really is amazing.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on October 19, 2013:

I haven't tried growing it, mainly because it takes so many flowers to get so little usable saffron -- but I love reading about your project. Kudos!

SavioC on October 18, 2013:

It's very expensive. We use it for many dishes. In India it's grown in Northern states like Kashmir.

RinchenChodron on October 15, 2013:

I'm not but maybe I'll try! It is very expensive to buy and Buddhists use it in their ceremonies.

NatureFan LM on October 14, 2013:

Fascinating.

Nice lens!

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 14, 2013:

@Titia: It does look like some other autumn relatives, but it pretty much does everything at this time of year.

Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on October 14, 2013:

Very interesting. The plant very much looks like the Colchicum autumnale (the Autumn crocus), although that one blooms first in fall and get its eaves later in spring. I'm certainly going to explore if the Crocus Sativa is available in my country too.

DLeighAlexander on October 14, 2013:

Thanks for the helpful information. The flowers are very pretty & valuable too! Sounds like a great addition any garden.

Michelllle on October 14, 2013:

Interesting. Might give it a try.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 14, 2013:

@Tim Bader: The color is one of the signs you may have bought fake saffron. There are a couple of much cheaper spices that are sold as substitutes, so if your "saffron" is yellow or a mix of red and yellow, you are not getting the real deal.

Devin Gustus on October 14, 2013:

Really great article. I've used saffron before when cooking paella. It sure was expensive. This would be an interesting gardening project!

Tim Bader from Surrey, UK on October 14, 2013:

Wow, I didn't realise how much they shrink as they dry!

I also didn't realise that the threads were red, not yellow.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 13, 2013:

@Diaper Bag Blog: I would say growing saffron is moderate-intermediate to grow. It's harder than "you can totally forget about it and it will still grow," but it's not the most difficult either.

Stanley Green from Czech Republic on October 13, 2013:

Well, I don't grow it, but I was curious how to do that and if it is difficult... After reading your lens I think I'm able to do it...

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 13, 2013:

@TheCozyDinosaur: It took me a couple of attempts to get going with this myself, so it's not the easiest but if you have a suitable climate and garden space, it can still be fun to try.

TheCozyDinosaur on October 13, 2013:

I love growing my own herbs and spices, just started earlier this year. Hadn't thought of saffron! Thanks :)

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 12, 2013:

@LiteraryMind: Saffron is dried, not used fresh, but it does keep rather well. I may be using this year's crop mostly for some alchemy I'm doing.

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on October 12, 2013:

This sounds like a great way to have fresh saffron.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 12, 2013:

@qikey1 lm: Well, you are free to grow your saffron however you wish, but I'm always going to give advice based on my viewpoint, experience and opinion. So things might not always match up.

qikey1 lm on October 12, 2013:

@schwarz: I did read the lens but then I watched the clip and he was putting them in a container. At that point I forgot the information that you wrote in the paragraph prior. Generally when I first start something I just give it a try on a small scale so that I can manage it...which is why I would consider the container...and why my mind drifted to focus on what he was saying rather than what you had written.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 12, 2013:

@qikey1 lm: I'm growing them as a serious crop, and if you actually read the lens, I explain how they can be inhibited or damaged by other plants. Now, if you just want to mess around with growing them and not be serious, you can do whatever you want. But the guy who I get my info from makes his main living growing saffron, and he told me not to companion-plant it, so that's what I did.

qikey1 lm on October 12, 2013:

@schwarz: I am in a similar climate zone...I used to live close by on the other side of the border...near Abbotsford BC..so if you are anywhere close to that I am familiar with the climate :) I know just where I am going to put them then! Have you considered..or have you planted other bulbs with them that bloom at different times of year? I might try something like that..I will have to research further :)

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on October 12, 2013:

@qikey1 lm: I've got mine planted in our south-facing front yard because anywhere else is just too dark. Then again, you need to remember, I'm way north in WA State. You will need to check what is best for where you are located.

qikey1 lm on October 12, 2013:

Oh wow I just noticed the link -I can purchase the bulbs on Amazon! Definitely planning a container for next spring! How much sun do they like? Thanks again!

qikey1 lm on October 12, 2013:

Wow! I had an interest in trying to grow saffron some years back and couldn't find information on it and lookie here! They are such pretty little things. Interesting that they bloom in the fall. I am bookmarking this lens for wintertime when I might have some time to consider growing my own..and revamping my search for bulbs as well :) Loved this lens..it certainly distracted me from a task that I really SHOULD be doing!! :D