South Khorasan province is located in eastern Iran. It is known to be one of the biggest producers of saffron, barberry, jujube, cotton and pomegranate. Traveling to South Khorasan in autumn is a delight; you will get to experience that the desert, nicknamed the land of red gold, is fully covered with beautiful purple flowers as far as eyes can see. These flowers carry ‘red gold’ also known as saffron, which is a vital part of Khorasani households. When you enter a Khorasani household, you will find that the whole house is redolent with the scent of saffron and the food on their table is incomplete without it. My mother calls it the king of spices because of its high value, she also believes that saffron helps to develop a royal and unique taste in food. Other than it’s unique taste, it has impressive health benefits. Historically, it was used to treat wounds because of its strong anti-inflammatory characteristics. Today, saffron and its components are used to treat drepression and cancer worldwide. That is why the people of Khorasan call saffron a gift from paradise as it makes their life happy and healthy.
Although some doubts remain about its origin, there are several evidences that saffron was cultivated for the very first time in ancient Greece. Greeks discovered its benefits but due to high humidity they were not very successful in their efforts to grow it. Greeks then found Khorasan to be an ideal place to grow saffron. Today, the region is the largest producer of saffron in the world contributing about 85% of the total world production. South Khorasan consists of 11 counties including Boshrouyeh or Boshrooyeh (my home). Boshrouyeh is the hub of red gold production in the world. The region of Bosh is a city in the desert and almost 90% of the total population are farmers. The local farmers including my father, Mohammad Bahrami, manage the ‘The Stamen Farms’ (a brand name for our local saffron).
This region is also known as the land of four golds because it produces three other valuable red colored medicinal and food herbs, barberry, jujube and pomegranate; these are also cultivated in this region in a considerable amount.
Floral Characteristics and Health Benefits of Saffron
Saffron is a spice extracted from the flower ‘Crocus Sativus’, commonly known as the saffron crocus. It is one of the world's most expensive spice. The height of the flower is between 10 to 30 cm and the flower consists of six purple petals with its vivid crimson stigmas and styles, which are called threads. The flower styles are commonly used as food colour for bread, soups, sauces, rice and puddings, etc. They are an essential ingredient of many traditional dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse, risotto milanese. The styles are extremely rich in riboflavin also known as vitamin B and are used as a tea substitute as well.
Saffron is a strong antioxidant and helps to reduce appetite and manage body weight (BMI). It helps to relieve stress, develops pleasant behavioural nature via maintaining hormones. It is also known to cure Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and associated symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety or irritation, tiredness or disturbed sleeping patterns, bloating or tummy pain, breast tenderness, headaches and spotty skin. Its anti-cancer properties have been published by renowned research centers around the world.
Saffron as a Part of Khorasani Culture
This valuable gift can be found in every Khorasani kitchen. I remember that every year during the saffron harvest season, my mother used to say, “God bless my father, he always emphasized that my family and I observe the ‘saffron traditions’. Even when I am not in this world, I ask you to teach these customs to your children as these are the traditions we inherited from our forefathers.”
Whenever I asked my mother to explain the saffron harvesting traditions, she smiled and replied, "Your grandfather used to wake the whole family in the morning and we all went to the fields before sunrise. All neighbours and family members worked together as one during the harvest seaon. The excitement never faded away during the harvest, we looked forward to go to the fields full of saffron flowers.
“My father said that the quality of saffron largely depends on the harvesting time, meaning that saffron flower buds should not be exposed to sunlight as the exposure will result in the loss of its original aroma. So, before dawn, we went to the fields to pluck all the buds and brought them home so that the saffron products could be separated. The pleasant scent of the saffron flower in our home is forever engraved in our memories because it brought us endless joy every year.
“After the flowers were plucked and their stigmas separated, my mother used coals to make wonderful tea and some traditional food for lunch. We all gathered in a specific room called the ‘winter room’, which was used for stigma separation. Sometimes a friendly competition in the house encouraged everyone to pool in and become a part of the tradition. These customs along with memorable stories of the elders picking flowers and separating the stigmas remain like annual recurring games for all of us. After that, my father carefully dried the saffron until it was ready for the market.
“Another custom set by my father was sharing a specific amount of saffron with family and friends as he believed that this would increase God’s blessings in the product. Many elders of the family who were pioneers are no longer among us, however, we as their offspring are trying to keep the memories alive by honouring and respecting the customs and traditions set by them.”
Saffron and Khorasani Families
Khorasan saffron cultivation and harvesting is recognized as a cultural heritage in Iran. If you travel to my city, the land of sand and sun, do not forget to buy the famous Boshrooyeh saffron as a souvenir.
People of Khorasan believe that God has given us buds of beauty and greatness even in this dry land and we should use it in the best possible way. For example, my mother always serves saffron tea to welcome our guests to share God’s blessing with them. Every year after the harvest season, she prepares saffron rice for the poor to thank God for his kindness.
In Khorasan, almost every family is engaged with saffron. Some of them are farmers like my grandfather and father, others participate in the harvesting process. It is interesting to know that the customs and traditions are still being followed today and this has become our heritage and has given us a seperate identity in the world. HH
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