Some words are beautiful in themselves. Like saffron.

photo of a saffron crocusLast November, I planted some corms (they’re not bulbs, I’ve learnt) of Crocus sativus or saffron crocus in the garden. A couple of weeks ago, we saw some inconspicuous green sprigs pop up. Last week, the crocus flowers came out and opened up in the autumn sun, et voilà … I harvested my first homegrown saffron.

Every flower of the saffron crocus produces three glowing orange-red stigmas that are carefully picked and then dried to become saffron, an age-old spice, medicine, fragrance and dye that is at times worth more than gold (by weight).

a sixteenth-century print of a saffron crocus with saffron pickers in the background

Crocus sativus, illustration by Gherardo Cibo, from an edition of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica by Pietro Andrea Mattioli (c. 1564–84). Book held in the British Library in London, UK. Public domain.

The word ‘saffron’ has come to English as saffran and safron in the twelfth century via the Old French safran, which had evolved from the Medieval Latin safranum, which itself was borrowed from the Arabic za’faran. In the same way, this Arabic word has led to Dutch saffraan, German safran, Italian zafferano, etc., whereas the Spanish azafran and Portuguese açafrão have come from the Arabic azza’faran (with prefix az- for ‘the’).

A beautiful word in more than one language, I think.