Saffron—say the word aloud. Say it a few times, slowly. Just the sound of it, soft and wispy, hints at a fascinating history. There are numerous cultures, some come and gone, that truly revere the precious spice in all it’s red-gold glory. The ancient Persians used saffron as a curative for bouts against melancholy, scattering saffron threads across beds and mixing into teas. The Sumerians also used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and potions, and later, it is said, Alexander the Great made good use of Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. His troops picked up the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece, writes Pat Willard, author of Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World’s Most Seductive Spice. And it is believed that Cleopatra bathed in saffron-infused mare’s milk before seeing a suitor.
The ancient Persians used saffron as a curative for bouts against melancholy, scattering saffron threads across beds and mixing into teas.
The costly colorful spice comes from the dried red stigmas of the flower Crocus sativus, and in addition to medicinal properties, has been used to flavor foods across many cuisines, as a pigment to paint with, and as a dye. Today, saffron can be found in a number of beauty and skincare products. Explains Judith Bourgeois, Ayurvedic Educator & Product Trainer for Shankara, “Saffron has been recognized throughout history for its medicinal properties. Ancient Greeks, Indians, and Egyptians among others, were known to have used saffron to support health. It is rich in antioxidants, making it extremely beneficial for the skin.” Saffron, notes Bourgeois, has very strong rejuvenating and skin renewing properties; it is toning, lightens the complexion naturally, and gives the skin a beautiful healthy glow, while its purifying qualities are beneficial for acneic skin.
Saffron is the star ingredient in Shankara’s Timeless Collection, a three-product line that blends the best from the east and the west—i.e., the line combines Ayurvedic ingredients with the latest in western natural actives. The tri-dosha (vata, pitta, kapha) products, says Bourgeois, effectively address all skin types. Included in the line: Timeless Moisturizer, Timeless Kumkumadi Oil, and Timeless Restorative Skin Elixir.
I also discovered saffron in SkinYoga’s Sandalwood Saffron Face Mask, that includes (obviously) sandalwood, an anti-aging ingredient that is said to aid in the removal of “age” spots, as well as walnuts that have circulation-boosting properties. Sonage also pays homage to the power of saffron in its hydrating Saffron Energizing Vitamin Mask that includes ginseng and COQ10 among its revitalizing and skin-brightening ingredients.
This past August, I was pleased to meet the lovely team behind iYura at Discover Green, the boutique show I co-curate with Cosmoprof North America. The line is not only beautifully packaged, but beautifully formulated—and includes saffron in quite a few of its products, like the Rujahari Oil, a massage oil that also contains turmeric, among other powerful herbs.