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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Stigmas More Precious Than Gold

It’s saffron-harvest time in the Swiss Alps. Local guild organizes to cultivate the world’s costliest spice.


Saffron crocus in Mund, Switzerland

Photo: Swissinfo

Before there was Tempurpedic, Zeus reclined on a bed of saffron flowers, pungent crocus of the Mediterranean. We mere mortals prefer saffron as spice, when we can afford it. The precious orange threads, harvested from the stigmas of crocus sativus , cost about $10 a gram (the weight of a paper clip) and turn whatever they touch a luscious, setting-sun gold.

While saffron is native to Iran and Turkey, today most of it is grown in Spain, where it flavors and colors the national casserole: paella. So what a surprise to learn that Mund, Switzerland, is growing some of the finest saffron in the world.

In 1979, farmers in the village started a saffron guild, after seeing that the crocus was gradually disappearing from this habitat. An article from swissinfo calls saffron farming “a tradition that dates back in Mund to the 14th century.” Since farmer organized 25 years ago, “the saffron fields have grown to cover 16,000 square metres. they have put the village on the map.”

It takes 130 flowers’ worth of crocus to produce one gram of the orange spice (75,000 blossoms to a pound). But the taste is— what?—pungent, bitter, sweet, all at once. Let the Olympians sort it out at their next slumber party.

In Mund, saffron flavors pasta, bread, and risotto. There’s even a locally made crocus aperitif. Here are directions for soup from a whole site of saffron dishes.

Saffron Soup


200 g.  (7 oz.) bacon diced

1 medium onion quartered

1 kg. (2.2 lbs.) potatoes peeled & diced

2 cups leeks sliced 1 inch

3 Chicken Broth Cube dissolved in

6 cups water

1/2 tsp. Turmeric

1 tbsp. Saffron

2 tbsps. white wine

1/4 cup Calamansi Juice (Lime Citrus) juice

1 170 g. (6 oz.) Cream

salt to taste

Garnish - snipped chives


Cook bacon until crisp; set aside. In the bacon fat, saute next three ingredients until onions are limp. Return bacon and add broth, turmeric and saffron. Simmer about 10 min. or until potato is cooked.  Cool then pass through a blender or a sieve until smooth. Add in       remaining ingredients except chives.

Simmer for about 10 minutes more then serve garnished with snipped chives.

Posted by Julie on 10/28 at 10:38 AM
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