Health and glow, no matter what is a delight for Homo sapiens forever. Aanand of Kashmir, Pulwama is the bowl where this delight blooms. Pulwama is the saffron bowl of India. Saffron, well known for its medicinal, cosmetic and culinary uses is the costliest  spice in the world in terms of weight. Costlier than gold , it is commonly known as Orange gold.

Saffron, said to be originated from Greece or Italy was introduced by Arabs to Spain in the 10th century. Though there are 5 species in Crocus genus, Crocus sativus (2n=3x=24) is the widely cultivated species. In India it is grown on large scale in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in an area of about 5707 ha.  Iran is the largest producer, producing 90% of the world ‘s saffron and Italy have higher productivity (6.80 kg/ha). In 2010, Govt. of Kashmir launched Saffron Mission to revive the traditional saffron cultivation.

Botany:

The plant is a perennial herb which are usually maintained in the field for 10 -15 years. Leaves are narrow, linear, green, produced from the corm underground. The flowers are bluish violet in colour with three funnel shaped tripartite stigma and golden coloured stamens. Bulb size varies from 0.5 – 5 cm in diameter.

Major compounds :

Cicrocrocin is the principle compound responsible for the bitter taste. α-crocin is responsible for the delicate saffron yellow colour it imparts when you add it in your milk or rice. The hard to nail flavour in your French bouillabaisse or paella is due to the safranol present in it.

Planting:

The plants require well drained loamy soil, loose in nature. Since it is a triploid plant, bulbs which are more than 8g in size are used for planting. Planting time varies from June to October depending upon the region. Planting density is 60 bulbs/m2. It requires nearly 50quintals of bulb to plant a hectare of land.

The bulbs are treated with the fungicide Carbendazim in combination with mancozeb before planting to avoid corm rot and planted to the depth of 15 – 20cm.

Irrigation and nutrient management :

In India, it is grown as rainfed crop without any particular application of fertilizers. Flooding and high precision irrigation can be practiced. Integrated Nutrient Management using manure (FYM 30 MT/ha), fertilizers (N90:P60:K50kg/ha) and vermicompost (0.25 MT/ha) to increase yield by improving soil health.

Picking and Packing:

Peak production is from the third year. In India, it blooms from second fortnight of October to First week of November. Two days old flowers are harvested early in the morning and stigma is separated within 4-5 hours after picking. A labour can harvest 8-16 kg of flowers / day. Stigma is then dried using solar dryers or electric dryers at the temperature range of 35° – 60°C. Then they are cleaned to remove dirt and packed in airtight glass or aluminum bottles.

Fifteen lakh flowers are required to produce one kg of saffron of commerce. Five kg of saffron can be produced from a hectare. Shahi is the high quality saffron. Mogra and lachee are low quality ones.

High Cost of the produce is not only because of the labour intensive cultivation, where planting, harvesting, separation, drying, cleaning and packing all are done manually but also due to its medicinal property to be used as a relaxant, expectorant, appetizer, sleep dose, to increase RBC count, increase fertility, memory enhancer and even cures cancer. Saffron is used to relieve stress and insomnia. When the heart is at ease, the body is healthy!

DIVYADHARSHINI V, B.Sc(Horticulture), A Freelance writer, Salem.