Saffron grows in increasingly large areas in Bulgaria and is slowly displacing traditional tobacco as a livelihood in the Rhodope Mountains. The hope is that the beautiful purple flower can bring life back to long-deserted villages.
The cultivation of the winter crocus, whose stigmas are the most expensive spice in the world, involves entirely manual labor. Harvesting is done day by day by hand, and the separation of the stigmas from the flowers is done by hand. To obtain 1 kg of dry saffron, it is necessary to manually harvest about 160,000 flowers and separate the three red-orange stigmas. Hence the high price of the final product. The petals are used to extract essential oil for cosmetics.
One of the legends about the origin of the saffron winter crocus is romantic – Crocus has been in love with a nymph with whom they have been inseparable. However, the god Hermes has turned her into a bush, and the young man into a beautiful plant, which was later called saffron.
The Babylonians and Assyrians used saffron as a remedy. There are also texts in Chinese medical books about the healing properties of saffron, dating back to 2600 BC. It was believed that the spice gives energy and stimulates love abilities. The Romans used it to aromatize public halls and bathrooms and believed that it had antidote properties. Wearing saffron yellow clothes and shoes was considered a sign of wealth.
In Bulgaria, saffron producers make tea from it, put it in soaps, paste, cheese, and quality perfumes and cosmetics. Some even brew brandy from it, and flavor honey. The family of producers from the Rhodopes also has their own production with saffron, whose saffron farm we will visit during our gastronomic tour.