If you find yourself in Kozani, near the village of Krokos, towards the end of Autumn you will witness one of the most beautiful sights; the land unravelling like a purple sea, the saffron cultivations!
Saffron, the gold of Greek land as it is called, is one of the most beloved and precious spices of ancient cultures because of its aroma, colour, pharmaceutical and aphrodisiac properties. Saffron has been known since antiquity, making its first appearance on wall paintings of the 16th century in Crete and Santorini. Then during the Classical years, it was used for its pharmaceutical properties as a painkiller and to help with sleep problems as well as an aphrodisiac. And later on in the Byzantine years there are mentions of it starting being used in gastronomy. Cleopatra used it in her cosmetics, the ancient Phoenicians in their offerings to the goddess Astarte, Homer mentions it in his writings and it is even found in the Old Testament.
Today saffron is cultivated in the area of Kozani. The locals are planting saffron every summer and when autumn comes, they remove the precious stigmas of the beautiful flower by hand and dry them thoroughly to make crimson slim threads. It takes about 50,000 stigmas to obtain 100gr of red saffron. Greek saffron is among the best saffron in the world, quality-wise.
Saffron also grows wild in three islands in the Cyclades; Santorini, Anafi and Astipalaia.
Saffron is one of the rarest pharmaceutical plants. It is the dried threads of its flower that are used and are invaluable. Besides its seasoning use that gives a unique, slightly spicy taste and a characteristic yellow colour to beverages and dishes, red saffron possesses significant antioxidant properties, protects against free radicals, and generally contributes to good health and well-being.
You can use the stems to make tea or any of the teas in this series, which offers a wide range of herbal teas with soothing, relaxing and warming properties that combine the flavour of sweet fruits with the scent of exotic spices.
The Cooperative of Saffron was founded in 1971, it consists of 1,000 members and has the exclusive right to collect, pack and distribute Kozani saffron. The founding of the Cooperative created a body that has the complete responsibility of collecting, processing, packing and distributing the product in order to ensure its quality and to avoid the adulteration that was done by the traders in the past, resulting in the degradation and negative image of the product. The Cooperative is currently producing one of the highest quality saffron, which achieved a PDO status in 1998. Greece is currently the 3rd production country in the world producing 2.5 tons annually, after Iran with 100 tons and India with about 8 tons.