Harvesting Saffron

Fall-blooming saffron crocus

On October 8th, 2022, I cleaned up this garden bed, pulling back overgrown catmint and creeping jenny to reveal these sweet hidden fall-blooming saffron crocus.

About twelve-and-a-half years ago, my life became inextricably linked to a Swede--my husband--who grew up half-time in Stockholm and half-time in Boston. As a result, he has a deep love of Swedish Christmas traditions which mainly revolve around food that brightens up the darkest December days with color and flavor. I too have come to love these traditions and sharing them with our girls. The first tradition falls on December 13th, Santa Lucia Day (luciadagan), and the second on Christmas Eve for which we prepare a giant julbord.

Homemade Saffron Buns
Saffron buns (saffransbullar) are a treat at all of our fall and winter holidays.

On both occasions, a favorite of ours has become saffron buns (saffransbullar) also known as Lucia buns (lussekatter). Saffron is often more expensive than gold per ounce, so this is a special holiday treat for us, as it is for most Swedes. What is not more expensive than gold per ounce are saffron crocus bulbs. Last year was my first year trying to grow saffron crocus in the garden. I forgot about the bulbs in the garden until I started fall clean-up in early October. Under the overgrown catmint and creeping jenny, there they were, saffron crocus blooms ready for harvest.

Saffron crocus bloom hidden by garden overgrowth

Hidden gem!

Harvested saffron with a dime for scale   A second harvest of saffron blossoms in early November   A second harvest of saffron blossoms in early November

Our first saffron harvest in late October and our second in early November.

Last fall when I planted these bulbs in my front yard garden in the beds closest to the house, I was hoping that in zone 6, which is a little chilly for saffron, there would be enough solar gain in this south-facing bed to keep them toasty. While the crocus leaves peaked through the earth in mid-November last year, I never did get any blooms. I also tried to force saffron indoors; the plants died quickly. I have decided I do not recommend forcing saffron crocus as they do perfectly well outdoors and since they are fall-blooming, provide saffron just in time for our holiday needs.

I was so excited upon this discovery and how well these blooms had done that I immediately went and ordered three more packages of saffron bulbs and planted them on October 23rd upon our return from a family trip to Florida. I did not expect any blossoms from these bulbs until the next season, however, I was again delighted to be gifted a second harvest which I collected on November 9th.


New saffron crocus blossoms were planted on October 23rd, 2022, and emerged just weeks later, pictured here on November 6th, 2022.

As a whole bulbs are a wonderful addition to any garden for their beauty and the benefits they provide to pollinators in early spring; however, I am especially smitten with saffron crocus as a culinary herb and look forward to many seasons of not needing to import this expensive spice over hundreds of thousands of miles. Goodbye carbon footprint; Hello saffronsbullar!

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