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saffron

Saffron: What You Need To Know About This Golden Spice

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is an Asian herb, and the world’s most expensive spice, commonly used for culinary purposes.

Saffron spice is made from dried stigmas of the crocus’ flower. This spice has a rich history, having been used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks both as a spice and a medicine.

Traditionally, saffron was used to relieve symptoms of fever, menstrual disorders, epilepsy and problems associated with the digestive system. However, this spice has slowly dominated the kitchen, with countless recipes using it as an essential ingredient.

How to Identify Saffron

Saffron
Saffron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saffron has a rich red-orange color when used in liquids, and it gives dishes and baked items a rich yellow color. This is one of the main reasons why this spice is used for culinary purposes, in addition to its aromatic properties. When buying saffron, here are a few insights into buying the real stuff:

  • If you are on the go and want to buy saffron, you may probably find it powdered. To ascertain that the powder is indeed saffron, take a pinch and stir it in warm water. If the water is instantly colored, the powder is not genuine saffron. The authentic spice should take at least ten minutes to color the water since it takes some time to infuse.
  • Red stigmas mixed with yellow styles.
    Red stigmas and yellow styles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    If you prefer the strands, it is good to learn how to identify high quality saffron. The quality of this golden spice is evident in the color of the stigmas. A high intensity of the color red means that the spice is of high quality, which also translates to a high price. However, to avoid buying dyed counterfeits at exorbitant prices, ascertain that the tips are a lighter red compared to the rest of the strand.

A saffron crocus flower.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To identify fresh saffron, one should know the basic characteristics of the plant. Crocus sativus is in the family of the Iridaceous plants. It grows to about 20 or 30 cm, and bears a maximum of 4 purple flowers per plant. Each flower bears only three bright crimson stigmas, which are connected to the carpel, along with the stalks. The flower emits a characteristic hay-like fragrance, which is hard to miss.

How Can You Get the Best Out of Saffron?

From simple preparation, crush a few strands of saffron and soak them in hot liquid for a minimum of 15 minutes. This allows enough time to infuse and give out maximum color and fragrance. The resulting mixture can be used in small quantities in teas, soups, pastries, confectionary and meals.

It is important to remember that saffron should be taken in minimal amounts. When using saffron as a spice, use only a few strands or a few drops of infused saffron. Too much of the spice makes meals and drinks bitter, and leave a medicine-like after taste.

What Are the Benefits of Using Saffron?

Since this is the most expensive spice, anyone would think twice before making a purchase. However, before you decide not to use it, here is a list of the benefits you will miss out on.

Saffron was, and still is, used relieve symptoms of troubled digestive system. It is a natural remedy for low appetite, nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea. It also offers relief from a bloated stomach and acidity. A few drops of the infused saffron in tea, soup or juice are enough.

The bright red-orange color characteristic of the spice is proof of the presence of carotenoids. This is a chemical that is vital for strong bones and healthy eyes. According to recent studies, this herb has enough of the carotenoids to cure arthritis and prevent blindness in old age. It also offers improved vision to people suffering from cataracts.

This golden spice is a mild antidepressant. This makes it the perfect remedy for mild and moderate depression. This property also helps to relieve sleep disorders such as insomnia. A small pinch of saffron powder taken in milk should suffice.

Traditionally, this spice was used to relieve menstrual conditions and regulate the periods. It can also be used to relieve muscle pains and spasms. This herb also clears any clotting in the uterine system, which can lead to excessive bleeding. Pregnant women are, therefore, advised to take this spice in extremely minimal quantities.

Saffron is an antioxidant. Therefore it is very useful in the prevention of cancer. It also relieves fever and acne, and boosts memory and blood circulation. It is a natural aphrodisiac, effective in both men and women.

Keep in mind that saffron is the most expensive spice, which makes it a perfect target for counterfeiters. When using this herb, ensure that you use the genuine one, not an adulterated version.

Urtica

Fascinating Facts about the Nettle

Urtica dioica, near Bruges, Belgium
Urtica dioica, near Bruges, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nettle plants (Urtica spp.) have been used for centuries due to their fantastic health benefits, and excellent healing powers, which people have utilized over the years. This fascinating plant is part of the Urticaceae family, which is made up of over 30 different species. Many of these plants and vines have incredible medicinal properties, which can help with a huge array of ailments.

There are specific male and female flowers on these plants, rather than a mix of both, and they are mostly herbaceous plants. Many of the different nettles, which you will find, have stinging hairs on the stem and leaves. These hairs will burn your skin when you touch the plant; however, they do not affect you when eaten.

The most common species of the nettle plant is the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), which is found in North America, Africa, Asia and Europe. This is also the oldest form of nettle, and the one that is used the most for medicine and healing properties. Many gardeners do not like to have this form of plant in their garden, however, if correctly handled, it can be a huge asset to grow.

The plant will lay dormant throughout the winter months, and return with a flourish in spring. You will find the nettles where there is an abundance of water, as they love moisture such as spring holes and lakes.

Healthy nettles can reach up to 2m in height, and will take over the area if allowed to grow freely. However, you need to be careful when gathering the plant, as they can irritate your skin. Wearing long trousers and sleeves are advised, alongside gloves to gather the plants before use. You will need to cut the nettles at the stem, and try to keep as much distance as possible.

 

homemade nettle soup
homemade nettle soup (Photo credit: H is for Home)

As food and drink, there are several different methods, which are effective, and can produce healthy alternatives to your daily diet. The flavor of the nettle is incredibly similar to spinach and cucumber; however, the leaves will need to be soaked before use. This will remove the chemicals, which cause the stinging effect.

During the peak season for nettles, the leaves contain over 25% of protein in their dry form, which is incredibly high for a green vegetable. Once the leaves have been soaked, you can handle them like any other herb, placing them in tea, soup or dressings. You will be surprised how many different recipes you can use the nettle leaves within, and how amazing they taste.

Nettles can be consumed in several different forms, including as soups, stews, or drunk as tea. The leaves of the plant are incredibly nutritious and contain high levels of potassium, iron, vitamin K, C and A. The vitamin K, which is found in the plant, will also help to stop wounds bleeding, and some people have used nettles as a laxative.

 

As more people than ever before are searching for alternative medicines, and natural remedies for everyday ailments, the popularity of the nettle has risen. Rising costs of drugs, and the uncertainty of what is included in them has sparked an interest in herbal medicine. People look at the ancient ways of healing, and utilizing what plants they have in the garden.

The humble leaf of the plant is astringent, galactagogue, diuretic, and hemostatic. This is an impressive list that many plants cannot offer, therefore, making the nettles an incredibly useful plant. Some people feel that the incredible tales that have been told are only folklore. However, as more people study nettles, there is now scientific research to back the tales.

Scientists have studied these amazing plants for centuries, to determine what they are useful for, and the best methods to use the plants. There have been studies carried out for hypertension, rheumatic diseases, diarrhea, kidney issues, constipation, cancer, skin disease and asthma. All of which benefit from the use of nettles either applied or consumed, therefore, this plant is considered to be incredibly useful.

The nettles have also been proven to help with dandruff and are often used in shampoos, it can make your hair glossy, and many farmers feed this plant to their cattle to produce an excellent coat.

 

rubus idaeus - raspberry

Rubus idaeus

Name

Rubus is a latin name meaning bramble. Idaues is an adjective and means “of Mount Ida”, a sacred mountain associated with the mother goddess in the deepest layers of pre-Greek myth.

Also Known as

  • raspberry
  • wild raspberry
  • red raspberry

 


 

Identification Keys

  • arching or erect shrub
  • multiple stems up to 1 m
  • purplish-red stems
  • stem has curved prickles
  • leaves are alternated
  • leaf is palmate-compound with 3-5 (sometimes 7) toothed, pointed, oval leaflets
  • leaflet is bright green on  upper side and minty-greenish white underneath
  • leaflet is long 3.5-6.5 cm and about half as wide
  • short, loose raceme
  • white, 5-petaled flower
  • round, downy, red raspberries in summer and fall

Seasons

  • fruits: mid-summer to late summer (sometimes there’s a second season from mid-fall to late fall)
  • leaves: spring to fall

Habitat

  • moist, sunny or partly shady habitats
  • thickets
  • hedges
  • overgrown fields
  • edges or openings of woods
  • trail sides

Poisonous Look-alikes

Poison ivy can resemble raspberry, with which it share territory; raspberry stem almost always has thorns whereas poison ivy stem is smooth. Also, the 3-leaflet pattern of some raspberry leaves changes as the plant grows: leaves produced later in the season have 5/7 leaflets rather than 3. Raspberry leave has many fine teeth along the edge, the top surface is very wrinkled where the veins are, and the bottom of the leaves is light minty-greenish white. Poison ivy leave is all green. The stem of poison ivy is brown and cylindrical, while raspberry stem can be green or purplish red, is squared in cross-section, and has prickles.

  • Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)
  • Toxicodendron diversilobum (poison oak) – West Coast of North America
  • Toxicodendron pubescens (poison oak) – Eastern United States

 


 

Medicine Uses

Parts Used

leaf, fruit

Actions

anti-inflammatory, astringent, decongestant, oxytocic, antiemetic, opthalmic, antioxidant, antiseptic, antidiarrheal, diaphoretic, diuretic, choleretic, hypoglycemic

Systems

Digestion

  • protects guts lining from irritation and inflammation
  • relieves nausea and suppress vomiting
  • astringent for diarrhea, especially for children
  • normalizes blood sugar level

Respiratory system

  • beneficial for sore throats, colds, flu and catarrh

Immune system

  • anti-microbial, inhibits pathogens such as Candida albicans

Reproductive system

  • relieves nausea in pregnancy
  • prevents miscarriage
  • tones uterin and pelvic muscles to prepare childbirth (taken as infusion of leaves, in the last 3 months of pregnacy)
  • speeds the healing after the birth
  • stimulates the flow of breast milk
  • fruits are useful to combat anaemia in pregnancy

Externally

  • gargle for sore throats and tonsillitis
  • use as mouthwash for mouth ulcers and inflamed gums
  • apply poultice or lotion on sores, minor cuts and burns
  • useful for conjunctivitis

 


Food Uses

Parts Used

Fruit, leaf

Main Uses

Raw/cooked fruit, Tea

Nutrition

  • source of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B1, B2, B6
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K
  • pantothenic acid
  • folate

Cooking

  • eat directly or add in any dessert recipe
  • make jams and jellies
  • milkshake
  • fruit salads
  • pies