This Californian’s recent trip to the South of France proved to exceed every expectation. The area of France known as Provence has long been known for its Mediterranean climate, exquisite seafood cuisine, roman history and lots of amazing wine…you really can drink the wine like water here. Moreover, I should not forget to mention the breathtaking views of rolling lavender fields. I must brag as well because I had the opportunity to visit an authentic organic farm and cottage–Sigalloux–dating to the late 18th century and not far from Saint Tropez. Not only was the town of Le Luc supremely charming, the family who owned the organic farm here showed me the grandest French hospitality. Meandering the pathways of the picturesque grounds, tasting the juicy white plums picked ripe from the tree, cooking lunch with ingredients plucked straight from the garden and being offered a naked solo swim all to myself in the courtyard pool, I never felt so provincial, nor so French.
The best part of this provincial experience was sitting down to the feast we prepared together (tomato salad, aioli sauce, steamed cod, potatoes and carrots, hard boiled eggs + garden fruits for dessert) and sharing our take on food as medicine. One highlight of our conversation was saffron–a spice derived from the flower known as “saffron crocus.” I was told the beautiful rouge threads taken from the flowers are dried and used for aroma and seasoning dishes like bouillabaisse, risotto, paella, biryani or even something as simple as rice. After inquiring about the medicinal benefits of saffron, I learned it is most beneficial for the nervous system and can help balance and support the mood, especially depression. This amazing fact sparked my intrigue and lead me to want to know more.
According to Dr. Mercola’s food facts and organicfacts.net saffron belongs to the iris family and offers the following benefits:
BENEFITS OF SAFFRON
- Powerful antidepressant
- Boosts immune system
- Regulates blood sugar
- Reverses aluminum toxicity
- Boosts metabolism
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves sleep
- Anti-cancer and fights tumor growth
- Helps eye conditions and protects the retina
- Slows macular degeneration
- Lowers blood pressure
- Prevents Heart Disease
Hippocrates himself wrote about using saffron in the support of coughs, colds, stomach ailments, insomnia and heart trouble. More recently, scientists from the US National Library of Medicine concluded that saffron has “neuroprotective potential under toxicity.” It is no wonder why saffron can be so helpful to many nervous system conditions. In fact, you don’t have to use a lot of saffron to see its benefits and if desired, you may take it as a supplement. The maximum that should be consumed in a day is between .5 grams and 1 gram according to organicfacts.net.
Saffron can be quite expensive due to the fact that it is still picked by hand and there are only 3 red threads on each flower (3 threads means it is authentic and 6 threads is the toxic flower variety). Thus, it takes more than a few of these flowers to attain one ounce. In fact, it takes 4,500 flowers to be precise! The properties of one ounce of saffron in terms of daily recommended values are as followed: 400% manganese, 38% vitamin C, 18% magnesium, 17% iron and 14% potassium and B6. However, it is not common to eat one ounce of saffron at a time, so using it here and there in dishes is best for therapeutic purposes. Typically, you would serve between 3-5 threads per plate.
According to Dr. Mercola,
Manganese helps regulate blood sugar, metabolize carbohydrates, and absorb calcium. It also helps form tissues, bones, and sex hormones. Vitamin C is an infection fighter; iron purifies your blood; and the vitamin B6 content helps form red blood cells and assures nerves will function as they should. Potassium helps balance fluids in cells, which, if low, can cause painful muscle cramps.
While the nutritional value of saffron may seem insignificant in terms of serving size, it is the component of saffron called “safranal” that we owe the health benefits to. Safranal, also responsible for the signature color and aroma, has high antioxidant and free-radical scavenging capabilities. Additionally, this property of safranal is known to be toxic to cancer cells.
Although saffron has been used widely throughout history and is still used in staple cultural dishes, in the US, it is easy to overlook and forget how important spices and herbs such as saffron are in terms of support to health and overall wellness. In our modern, fast-paced society, we are lucky to eat a balanced meal in the US, much less a culinary delight such as saffron. It reminded me of why I value my trips and experiences in France, it is here I have learned the importance of quality, flavor and freshness, as opposed to the US standard of quick, quantity and cheap.
Being in Le Luc, I felt sincere gratitude for being reminded of the true gifts nature provides; the amazing health properties of foods, herbs and spices that may simply be forgotten or taken for granted. I say reminded because after all, it is instinctual that true food has its purpose and benefit to the body. Yet, there in Le Luc, France the simplicity of life and slow living shined through. The thought of small threads on an iris flower, the sweet taste of a vine ripened fig, along with genuine conversation and French hospitality, it all helped to slow me down and take time to appreciate the true beauty of life and of Provence.
I leave you with images of Le Luc and if you ever get a chance to visit Sigalloux, aside from the gorgeous glass vials of saffron and delicious saffron fig jam, ask for a taste of the walnut wine…you won’t regret it!
P.S. Don’t forget to pet Jolie, the farm’s dog, who also loves to eat the fruit right off the tree.
https://www.organicfacts.net/saffron.html. “11 Amazing Benefits of Saffron.“
http://foodfacts.mercola.com/saffron.html. “What Is Saffron Good For?”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3637901/. “Safranal: From an Aromatic Natural Product to a Rewarding Pharmacological Agent.”
http://ebm.rsmjournals.com/content/227/1/20.full. “Cancer Chemopreventive and Tumoricidal Properties of Saffron (Crocus sativus L.)”
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23168242. “Investigation of the neuroprotective action of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) in aluminum-exposed adult mice through behavioral and neurobiochemical assessment.” Dec. 2012.