[Histonet] Re: Safran du Gatinais

patsy ruegg pruegg <@t> ihctech.net
Sun Aug 19 16:05:38 CDT 2007

Being a gardener myself, I was wondering why we don't just grow some of our
own Crocus plants, or is the common Crocus plant not the same plant that
produces the Saffron from India these days, or perhaps you would have to
grow so much of it to yield enough of the stigmas??????  I know Crocus grows
in Colorado, even higher than I, I once saw a huge yard full of Crocus
plants in Aspen, CO at the end of the summer, of course it would die off
during the winter. Is my 5 acres in Colorado big enough, maybe I can grow
Crocus as my cash crop?  When I lived in California I had a house full of
Crocus plants, they are very common there.
Best regards,

Patsy Ruegg, HT(ASCP)QIHC
12635 Montview Blvd. #216
Aurora, CO 80010
fax 720-859-4110
pruegg <@t> ihctech.net

-----Original Message-----
From: histonet-bounces <@t> lists.utsouthwestern.edu
[mailto:histonet-bounces <@t> lists.utsouthwestern.edu] On Behalf Of
rsrichmond <@t> aol.com
Sent: Sunday, August 19, 2007 2:40 PM
To: histonet <@t> lists.utsouthwestern.edu
Subject: [Histonet] Re: Safran du Gatinais

 Lynne Cates in Durham NC asks about buying saffron in bulk for histologic

Saffron, a culinary spice and coloring agent most familiarly used in paella,
consists of the stigmas of the flowers of Crocus sativus. The spice has a
very strong odor, and also contains a dye of some histologic interest.
Because of its labor-intensive production (do YOU want to spend your days
picking the sex organs out of itty bitty flowers?) saffron's extremely

Saffron is used histologically as a connective tissue stain, traditionally
in one of the many techniques attributed to Dr. Masson, and in the Movat
pentachrome stain. It dyes collagen a yellow-orange color that contrasts
subtly with eosin. 

Saffron has a Colour Index number (75100) and is described in the 9th
edition (I don't have the 10th) of Conn's Biological stains. The active
coloring matter is called crocin, composed of crocetin and gentobiose.

To prepare the stain, the dye is extracted from the crude spice with
ethanol. Because saffron is so expensive, the WHO tumor fascicles (in the
1960's) suggested extracting the dye into ethanol using a reflux condenser
to achieve maximum yield. This alcohol extract has an obnoxious medicinal

A look-alike, safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), sometimes called dyer's
saffron or bastard saffron, is odorless and contains a different dye,
carthamin or carthamone, chemically unrelated. I have never seen safflower
referred to as a histologic stain. Safflower is sometimes referred to as
saffron, and I'd be careful not to buy it for histologic use - remember it's
odorless. (Safflower is grown commercially as an oil seed.)

Saffron was historically grown in France and Spain. It is still grown
commercially in Spain, but most of it is grown in India. The traditional
histologic designation "safran du Gâtinais" referred to the French product,
which I think is no longer available. (Saffron was grown in England
centuries ago, hence the place name Saffron Walden.)

I checked a high-end spice dealer, Penzeys Spices (disclaimer - my wife
orders a box of spices from them about once a month), and found saffron for
US$10 to 15 a gram, retailed in gram quantities, depending on the source. I
suspect it could be ordered from India, perhaps through an Indian grocery
store, for less, but I'd want to be awfully careful I was getting Crocus
sativus. Apparently lower grades of saffron can be bought in bulk for a
dollar or two a gram.

The Wikipedia article on saffron is worth reading.

According to Wikipedia the coat of arms of Saffron Walden is "Vert within a
representation of town walls having two towers and a Gateway between towers
Argent three Saffron Flowers issuant from the battlements of the gateway
blown and showing the stamens proper And for the Crest On a Wealth of the
Colours Upon a Chapeau Gules turned up Ermine a Lion rampant Azure grasping
in the dexter paw a representation of the Ancient Mace of the Borough of
Saffron Walden proper."

Bob Richmond
Samurai Pathologist, histoantiquarian and occasional blazoner wannabe
Knoxville TN

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