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Research seeds: Saffron

In this article, we discuss the “Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized pilot trial

Research seeds Saffron
Saffron (Crocus Sativus)

Plant name and species

 Saffron (Crocus Sativus)

Aim of study

The objective of the study was to compare the efficacy of a saffron extract with fluoxetine for treating mild to moderate depression.

Study method

Forty patients between 18-55 years old participated in this double-blind, single centre randomized trial that lasted 6 weeks. 

Patients were split into two groups, one received 30mg a day of the saffron capsules and the other received 20mg of fluoxetine a day. 

They filled in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) to assess the severity of their condition before beginning, and after to see how the treatment affected them.

Herbal preparation: A hyrdro-alcoholic preparation of saffron was prepared. 120g of saffron stigmas were dried and milled, and then extracted with 1800ml of 80% ethanol by percolation. The ethanolic extract was then dried by evaporation at a temperature between 35 and 40 ◦C. The extract was standardized by the compound safranal. Each capsule had 15mg of dried saffron extract in, which is between 0.30-0.35mg of safranal.

Sample size: 40 adult patients

Results of study

The results show that saffron was effective in treating mild to moderate depression with both groups improving scores on the HAM-D scale. There were no significant differences in the results, so saffron was equally as effective as fluoxetine.


It has been suggested that saffron has antidepressant effects as it contains safranal and crocin, two components which have been shown to inhibit the reuptake of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin therefore increasing the levels of these mood-enhancing molecules. From a traditional herbalism perspective, it has nervine actions which contribute to saffron’s supportive effects for mental health. 

Saffron can offer people a gentle but effective alternative to fluoxetine, which can have side effects including nausea, changes in one’s menstrual cycle, fatigue, weakness and insomnia. 


This study shows that saffron is equally as effective as fluoxetine for the treatment of mild to moderate depression, and further investigations are warranted. 

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