Saffron has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years, originally in Kashmir. No ethno-botanical research has succeeded in lifting the veil of mystery which hangs over the origins of saffron. Was saffron the first genetically modified plant, first cultured forty centuries before the biotechnological age?
Every wild or cultivated plant, even if it has circumnavigated the globe ten times, has an origin – a cradle. Various works seem to confirm that saffron’s birthplace was Asia: to be precise, somewhere in the immensity of the Himalayas – probably Kashmir.
Over the centuries, the passion and the greed of men, be they navigators, explorers, traders or traffickers, conquering warriors or simple botanists, has incontestably contributed to the migration and development of this spice in the West, notably Southern Europe.
Whatever it is, the most precious food in the world has fuelled the wildest passions for more than four thousand years – just like the vineyard and wine.
Closer to our own time, the Arabs brought saffron to North Africa, and to the Moorish state of Spain in the 9th century. In France it was the crusaders who, in the course of their travels, brought crocus bulbs crocus bulbs (Crocus Sativus) back from Greece and Italy. It was first planted in the Albi region, then spread to Quercy, Angouleme, Poitou and Touraine, until finally reaching Gâtinais in the 19th century. The culture of saffron reached its peak in the 16th century, before starting to decline at the end of the 18th century. By the 19th century, only Gâtinais saffron survived in France, but through a combination of climatic and economic factors had virtually disappeared by the start of the 20th century. At this time, vines and saffron were replaced by potatoes and beet.