The crocus, one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring, was first raised as a spice plant. The spice was saffron, the pungent orange-yellow flavoring, which is actually the dried stigmas of one species of crocus. The name crocus comes from the ancient Greek name for saffron, which was krokos.
More than, 4,000 years ago, the island of Crete was a center of saffron production, and saffron was sacred to the great goddess of Crete, Britomartis. More than 3,000 years ago the Egyptians were using saffron as a drug to treat rheumatism and dental trouble.
The Greeks used saffron chiefly as a dye. Because of its high cost, it was used to color the robes of kings. To the Greeks saffron was so precious that their poets described the robes of the Greek gods as saffron-colored. Saffron is one of the costliest of all spices to produce. About 4,300 crocus blossoms must be gathered, and their stamens carefully removed and dried, to make one single ounce of the deep yellow-orange spice. And, each step must be done by hand.
Like the Greeks, the ancient Irish considered saffron a royal color. The Hindus used it in religious ceremonies, and today saffron is one of the colors in the flag of India.
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