The answer is: only a tiny amount. Most of the plant’s energy goes into making the oil it will use to make the seeds, which is what provides the color and aroma. And it’s about the only oil that grows in dry desert conditions where sunlight hits the plant’s plant cells.
The biggest part of the cost is the seeds themselves: They cost about $3 each and cost a little more to grow than they take up in land. It’s the saffron that takes the price up—and that’s where you come in. The saffron and oil that grows on the stems of this ancient desert flowering plant cost from $4 to $10 per pound depending on how heavy or light the plants are, and how much sunlight they get.
The saffron oil will keep the plants alive for about 7 months and then it’s a matter of drying them out, which may take up to three months. It’s a slow process when you consider that it takes a plant a few days to finish each stem. It’s also expensive: it costs $30 per pound if you dry off the plants yourself because you still have to pay to sell off the oil. The saffron’s primary use is in making medicinal drugs—and in particular for cancer patients to help prevent blood clots—but saffron also has many other uses, from making food coloring to making leather products.
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The main ingredient in the saffron extract isn’t known: it’s likely an alkaloid called chasteal. It’s not poisonous to humans, and it’s used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat everything from headaches, depression and arthritis to a stomach disease known as irritable bowel syndrome. It’s also the main ingredient in the traditional medicine used by Ayurvedic doctors for digestive problems. But that doesn’t mean that you need to try to get a doctor’s prescription for chasteal. For most patients who are already on anticoagulants, it won’t be an issue. For those on antiplatelet drugs, for example, you can’t get chasteal in a supplement.
How much should you invest in this? To get the biggest return on your investment, start with small amounts. If you can only grow about 2 pounds of the seed per year, for example, you can use an amount of about $10 a pound before the cost goes up. That means only a
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