Crocus Sativus is from an Iridaceae family flower and is one of the most expensive spices in the world; Saffron plants in many countries including Iran, Spain, Switzerland, India, etc. it is used for medicinal purposes and has therapeutics role in the treatment of various diseases from ancient time. Saffron cultivation and using this plant in different fields go back to many years ago (about 3000 years). It is obtained from the stigma of Crocus Sativus flower. This plant is small and perennial and grows 10 to 30 cm high. Saffron can be used as a spice, color, herbal medicine, chemical substance, etc. in various cases.
Saffron stigma contains different chemical components that make it useful for different purposes; such as Crocin, Crocetin, anthocyanin, lycopene, and carotene, thus they can have different medicinal and pharmaceutical effects on treating various diseases.
The chemical constituents of saffron contain sugars, protein, moisture, crude fiber, minerals, fat which are about 63, 12, 10, 5, 5, 5 percent, respectively. There are more than 150 volatile compounds in saffron stigmas among which, three active and major constituents are more important and well known. The color, aroma and bitter taste of saffron are caused by Crocin, Safranal, and Picrocrocin, as the most significant ingredients, respectively.
Among different constituents of saffron, Crocin is the most important component because it has shown biological activities. Crocin is the extraction of some parts of two plants in the world; Gardenia Jasminoides and Crocus Sativus L (the scientific name of saffron).
As mentioned above, Crocin (Crocetin di-gentiobiose ester) is known as a chemical compound extracted from two plants in the world; the stigmas of Crocus Sativus L. and the fruits of Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides Ellis). It has so many properties that make it more effective for different purposes including antioxidant, antiproliferative, brain neurodegenerative disorder, learning and memory enhancer, biosurfactant, sperm cryopreservation, and Alzheimer disorder. In many studies, Crocin is showed no side effect, so it is safe as a phytotherapeutic drug. Not only Crocin can be used in therapeutic purposes, but also it is useful for nutritional applications.
Crocin saffron is the main three constituents of saffron stigma (the red part) and is responsible for the color of it. Crocin has a potential chemical response to light as one of the main constituents of saffron stigmas and is a water-soluble carotenoid. Crocin commercially obtained from the dried stigma of saffron and belongs to a group of natural carotenoids. It can be in a powder form, has a deep red color and is water soluble; when it mixes with water it becomes yellow to orange.
Since saffron has a deep red color; it can be used as a color agent from ancient times till now. These days’ researches demonstrated that the saffron constituents are more than 150 compounds. Mixtures of different substances are in the saffron stigma which among them Crocin, Safranal, and picrocrocin are the most important components of this plant and they are accountable for color, aroma, and taste of it, respectively. Crocin is one of the main ingredients which is responsible for the coloring matter of saffron stigmas. This compound can be used as a dye or colorant in the food, beverage, etc.
Pharmacological activities of Saffron
Nowadays, most of people tend to use alternative herbal medicines instead of chemical products for the treatment of their diseases; because they are safe and have fewer side effects. Among various medicinal herbs, saffron and its important role in treating and preventing different diseases are known and documented. The role of saffron constituents including Crocin and Crocetin has been proved in the treatment of different disorders in the body and its medicinal properties and main constituents have been studied in various researches for many years. These activities include anti-Alzheimer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitussive, anti-ischemic, anticonvulsive, antidote, anti-genotoxic, anti-nociceptive effects; using saffron cures numerous diseases and also protects the body organs against Parkinson, diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer, tumor, depression, and atherosclerosis; It has aphrodisiac effects, too. Some of the studies investigated and the results are shown here:
Crocin is a kind of preventer factor and balancing improver that can raise citrate and magnesium levels of urine because of its antioxidant effects.
Various properties of Crocin with high purity as an antioxidant and anti-cancer are useful for medical and commercial purposes. The studies demonstrated that Crocus sativus extract and its main constituent Crocin inhibits the growth of cancer cells without destroying normal cells, therefore Crocin saffron has anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties and can be used as an anti-proliferation and treatment of these diseases.
Since saffron has sun protection and the moisturizing effects it can be used in the cosmetic industry and in various product formulations such as lotions, sunscreen creams, moisturizers, etc. The moisturizing and anti-solar effect of saffron has been studied in many types of research. Moreover, saffron has another important property for skin cancer prevention due to its antioxidant benefits; this feature gives the saffron an important role. Of course, more researches should be done for proving its cosmetic effects.
The studies have demonstrated the anticancer effect of saffron and its main components especially Crocin and Crocetin which have considerable anticancer activities in different types of cancers such as lung, pancreatic, breast, and leukemic cells. In some cases, saffron extract administered orally and helped to prevent the growth of tumor cells. It is proved that Saffron and Crocetin lead to breast cancer cells to death. It is also reported that saffron constituents inhibit liver cancer, too and this property of saffron as an anti-cancer is due to Crocin; this component has more anti-cancer effects in comparison with Safranal, Picrocrocin, and Crocetin.
Among the constituents of saffron, Safranal showed a positive effect on raising the total sleep time.
In the past, saffron has been used in traditional medicine as a treatment of different eye diseases such as cataracts, purulent eye infection, painful eye, corneal disease, etc. It also can help to strengthen the eyesight, day blindness. Today, saffron extract with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-apoptotic properties can decrease the effects of some eye diseases and promote retinal function and blood flow.
Saffron and its constituents have another important property; it is useful for protecting the heart and it has cardioprotective effects. The hypotensive effect of Crocin and Safranal as major components of saffron stigma has been proved in a study. Aqueous saffron extract and Safranal decreased the heart rate and arterial blood pressure. Another research had worked on the effects of Crocetin and demonstrated that it can increase the antioxidant enzyme levels. Raising tissue oxygenation and plasma oxygenation rate and increasing oxygen supply is another feature of saffron especially in brain injuries.
The modern pharmacological uses of saffron investigated and the findings compared with the traditional applications of it; it demonstrated that scientific research can confirm the traditional uses of saffron.
The extraction of Crocin from saffron stigmas:
Crocin saffron can be extracted by different methods. In research, the crystallization process had been used and Crocin crystals acquire less purity.
Many types of research have been done to analyze saffron and different methods used including TLC, HPLC, GC-MS, UV-Visible spectrophotometry.
Yingpeng Tong, Yu Jiang, Dan Guo, Yongqiu Yan, Shiping Jiang, Yu Lu, S. Zahra Bathaie, PingWang; “Homogenate Extraction of Crocins from Saffron Optimized by Response Surface Methodology”; Hindawi Journal of Chemistry; 2018.
Arshad Husain Rahmani, Amjad Ali Khan, Yousef Homood Aldebasi; “Saffron (Crocus sativus) and its Active Ingredients: Role in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease”; Pharmacogn, A Multifaceted Journal in the field of Natural Products and Pharmacognosy; J. 2017.
Hamid Mollazadeh, Seyyed Ahmad Emami, Hossein Hosseinzadeh; “Razi’s Al?Hawi and saffron (Crocus sativus): a review”; Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences; 2015.
Ahmad Reza Bandegi, Ali Rashidy-Pour, Abbas Ali Vafaei, Behshid Ghadrdoost; “Protective Effects of Crocus Sativus L. Extract and Crocin against Chronic-Stress Induced Oxidative Damage of Brain, Liver, and Kidneys in Rats”; Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin; 2014.
Rajeev K Singla, Varadaraj Bhat Giliyaru; “Crocin: An Overview”; Indo Global Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences · December 2011.
F. Hadizadeh, S.A. Mohajeri, M. Seifi; “Extraction and Purification of Crocin from Saffron Stigmas Employing a Simple and Efficient Crystallization Method”; Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 13 (14): 691-698, 2010.
Hossein Hosseinzadeh, Mohammad Hadi Modaghegh, Zahra Saffari; “Crocus Sativus L. (Saffron) Extract and its Active Constituents (Crocin and Safranal) on Ischemia-Reperfusion in Rat Skeletal Muscle”; Advance Access Publication 25 October 2007.
H.H. Aung, C.Z. Wang, M. Ni, A. Fishbein, S.R. Mehendale, J.T. Xie, C.Y. Shoyama, C.S. Yuan; “Crocin from Crocus Sativus possesses significant anti-proliferation effects on human colorectal cancer cells”; Experimental Oncology; 2007.