History and uses
Believed native to the Mediterranean region, Asia Minor, and Iran, the saffron crocus has long been cultivated in Iran and Kashmir and is assumed to have been introduced to Cathay from the Mongol invasion. In ancient times, however, the chief seat of cultivation was in Cilicia, It was cultivated by the Arabs in Spain about 961 and is cited in a British leechbook, or recovery manual, of the 10th century but may have disappeared from western Europe until reintroduced from the crusaders. During various periods, saffron has been worth much more than its weight in gold; it remains the most expensive spice in the world.
A golden-coloured, water-soluble cloth dye was distilled from saffron stigmas in India in ancient times. Soon after Buddha died, his priests left saffron the official color for their robes. The dye has been used for royal clothes in a number of cultures.
Saffron is named one of the sweet-smelling herbs in Song of Solomon 4:14. As a perfume, saffron was strewn in Greek and Roman halls, courts, theaters, and baths; it became particularly associated with the hetairai, a professional class of Greek courtesans. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero forced his entrance into the city.