Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saffron - The most expensive Plant in the world

Scientific Cultivation  of  Saffron

Saffron is a perennnial , low growing herb with a globular   corm   ranging   from  0.5  to  5cm  in diameter. The corms (Monje/Seed) produce 6-15 narrow, needle like leaves about 10 cm long; surrounded in the lower region by four to five scales. The flowers are borne singly or in two to three. The three stigmas of the flowers along with the style when dried constitute the saffron of commerce. The plant is a native of Iran and Asia Minor. In the former princely state of  Kashmir Vale is a legendry crop of well drained plateau of  Pampore (South Kashmir) where it is being  grown since ancient times. The recorded time of saffron cultivation in Kashmir dates back 550 AD  nearly four centuries earlier than that recorded in Spain. It is rightly called the golden condiment of Kashmir. Saffron also cultavated in Iran, Spain, Baluchistan, Gilgat and now in Afghanistan

The average composition of commercial saffron is water ( 15.6 per cent) starch and sugur (13.15 per cent), essential oils  ( 0.6 per cent) fixed oil (5.63 per cent ), total N-Ffree extract (43. 64 per cent), Crude fiber (4.43 per cent), ash (4.27 per cent). The chief pigment of saffron is its yellowish red glycoside crocin, picrocrin is the bitter tasting pigment and it too is glycoside.

Saffron is as precious as gold not because of its high demand and  low production  but because it  is used  in various religious rituals. Hindus use saffron for marking their foreheads, Muslims divine extract in water and write charms with ink thus formed. In Indian market mostly 50-60 per cent of saffron is used in chewing tobacco and for preparing wine. Saffron is used to prepare saffron rice, saffron cakes, wazwaan, tea, cakes, in the preparation of scent and perfumes. It is used for colouring butter, cheese, puddings and confectionary. Like most oriental aromatic herbs saffron is also used in medicinal and culinary reputations. It stops vomiting, expels worms, heels headache and wounds. It is good for hemorrhoids, for removing the discoloration of face and pimples. It is good for epilepsy. Some times it is used in exenthematous diseases to promote eruption. It is popularly supposed to be a stimulant warm and dry in action helping in the alleviation of urinary, digestive and uterine troubles. Paste of saffron is used in dressing bruises, superficial sores, rheumatic and neurological pains and congestion of chest. Passaries of saffron are used in painful complaints of uterus. Dry boiled corms are administered in Ayurvedic and Unani ststem for treatment of gousciatica  and rheumatic pains.

Soil & Climate
Saffron grows well in drained loamy soil. Medium grade, light soil with neutral to slightly alkaline reaction is suited for its cultivation. It prefers very well drained, clay loam soils of karewas of Kashmir. The soils should be deep and free from stones. Saffron thrives well in sub-temperate regions ranging from 1500 meter to 2400 meter.

It requires cool and sunny situation for promising growth. An optimum of 12 hours light duration is essential for growth and flowering. The day temperature should be 20-22  0C  with a difference of 10-12  0C between day and night temperatures. A good shower during August-September facilities flowering and increased yield. Dry weather condition during flowering period is essential for realizing higher yields. In general locations which receive  30-40 cms rainfall and are covered with snow during winter are good for its cultivation. Spring rains are favourable for promoting corm multiplication wherease, a second spell of rains at the beginning of autumn encourages profuse flowering.


Propgation of the plant is through corms. The plant remains dormant from May-August. The mother corm reproduces annually and gives rise to four to six daughter cormlets. The corms formed during a year produce flowers in the following year. The mother corms provide food to the new developing corms and in doing so wither, shrink and finally die. Now corms develope each year to replace the older once.
Corms multiply from one year to the next, from one corm one can get 8 corms after 3-5 years

Land Preparation and planting

Land preparation starts in March -April. The field is ploughed four to five times to a depth of 30-35 cms.Another  polghing is done in May and fields leveled. Well developed seed corms @1600 to 2000 kg per per hectare should be used after dipping in five percent solution of copper sulphate. The corms should be of 1.5 cms and above in diameter with outermost loose covering cleaned before planting. The corms should be planted in second fortnight of August at a depth of 15-20 cms with a row to row spacing of 15 cms and corm to corm spacing of five to eight cms. After planting divide the field into 2 meters x 4 meters strips by opening 15 deep and 30 cms wide furrows for proper drainage. Saffron can also be planted as an inter crop in newly planted orchards. The superior and less expensive method recommended by Jammu and Kashmir Medicinal Plants Introduction Centre is strip system.Saffron corms can either be planted directly into the ground (borders, gardens, fields etc…) or in pots or window boxes (inside or out). Manures and fertilizers
Mix 15-20 tonnes per hectare of well decomposed FYM during last ploughing. Recent studies have revealed that application of vermicompost @350 kg/hectare has given a yield of 4.88 Kg/hectare.

Keep the planted field undisturbed till the following June. Perform the first hoeing in June using a short handled  tangru locally called (in Kashmiri) "ZOUN". This operation provides aeration to the soil which is very important for proper development of Saffron Corms.

Subsequently the second hoeing is done in the month of September along with cleaning and repairing of the drainage channels. Care should be taken not to disturb the growing buds of corms. This hoeing is accompanied by light dressing  of FYM at the rate of two tonnes per hectare. Third and final hoeing is given after the flowering is over and mannure is mixed in the soil with the help of iron  rakes. This schedule of operations is followed every year until the crop remains in the field.

Diseases and pests
Fungal diseases often infect the corms. Fungi like Rhizocotnia crocorum,, Sclerotina bulborum and Phoma Crocophila are reported to infect the corms changing the colour of flesh from white to yellow and finally to black resulting in death of the corms. poor aeration in the soil, injury to corms and hail storms provide ideal conditions for the development of diseases. Discarding can prevent this. Treat healthy corms with five percent copper sulphate solution during planting. Incidence of Gangrane disease (in this, the normal plant which prevents flower formation) is also reported from some fields. Rate and moles causing damage tones of corms every year often damage saffron cro. Zinc phoshide baiting and rat control campaign on watershed basis may be of great help.

Harvesting and processing
The flowering season is confined to three weeks from middle of October to first week of November. The flowers are picked daily in the morning and stigmas and styles are trimmed immediately. About 1,60,000 flowers are hand picked to produce one kg of good quality dried saffron.

(Scientific Cultivation of Saffron report is also available in Urdu)

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