Flavours of Umbria

The saffron of Umbria


The Crocus Sativus
The Crocus Sativus plant, native to Asia Minor, has been employed since ancient times for dyeing, as well as pharmaceutical, cosmetic and culinary uses. Its properties were known to the Egyptians and in the Bible it is referred to as the Song of Songs. It is also known in India, and is still used by Buddhist monks to dye their clothes. The Greeks, then the Romans and the people of the Middle Ages, called the plant "crocus" (from the Greek "krokos").
Homer in the Iliad mentions it as being among the flowers in the bed of clouds of Zeus. The Greek physician Hippocrates praised its pharmacological properties. His colleague Galen even prescribed it for all ills. The Arabs brought it to the West. The word comes from the Persian "sahafaran", from "asfar" (yellow), which passed into Arabic as "za'faran" and then into Spanish as "azafran". 
In Umbria, there is documentation and evidence that saffron has been cultivated in several  areas since the early fifteen hundreds. Cascia and Città della Pieve are the areas of excellence. In the 1537 Tax Laws for Castel della Pieve , the collection of saffron appears, among other items. 
A native plant of the eastern Mediterranean, saffron is a small bulbous plant producing violet flowers, which owes its fame to both to its dye quality as well as its flavouring and digestive properties, widely known in the food, pharmaceutical and perfume sectors. The therapeutic use of the drug is limited, not only due to the fact it is expensive but mainly because of its toxicity: saffron, in fact, is harmless only in normal food doses (several centigrams), which is why it is mainly used for for gastronomic purposes.

The flowers are harvested by hand at the end of October, and only in the early hours of the morning, as intense light can alter the organoleptic characteristics of the stigmas: these have an intense red brick colour and once dried may only be sold if completely intact, ensuring the authenticity of the product.