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How to Grow Saffron at Home: The World's Most Expensive Spice

Add some color and spice to your cooking and fall flower beds with one surprisingly low-maintenance plant.

Saffron crocuses
These crocuses have a pricy spice inside.
Owen Franken/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Groceries are getting more expensive thanks to inflation, and it pays to look for ways to save. One area of the grocery store that's always run up the bill, though, is the spice aisle. Those little jars pack a flavorful punch, but the cost can quickly add up. And no other spice will run up your grocery bill faster than saffron.

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Saffron, the tiny red thread-like spice that comes in jars too big for it, will cost you or over $200 per ounce on Amazon (sold in 0.035-ounce portions, for about $9 each). At a local grocery store, it might run to $1,000 per ounce. If you're looking to save money on groceries, you're likely cutting saffron out of your cooking arsenal.

Unless you're growing it yourself, which is surprisingly easy. The spice saffron is, in nature, part of the saffron crocus, a purple flower that looks a lot like the crocuses that greet a lot of people in the spring. Because the flower and the saffron threads, called stigma, are delicate, harvesting takes a bit of care, but isn't difficult for small amounts. (The huge amount of labor required to harvest saffron is actually a major reason it's so expensive.)

Read on for a rundown on growing, preserving and storing saffron and start saving money on groceries.

How to grow saffron at home

If you've grown crocuses, tulips or daffodils, you can grow saffron. Saffron crocuses are pale purple crocuses that, because they bloom in the fall, are also known as autumn crocuses. Their cup-shaped blooms grow to about four inches above the ground among thin, dark green, grass-like leaves. They grow leaves without flowers in the spring, too. 

They don't need a lot of water or much care, though they benefit from plenty of sunlight and a slightly sheltered growing site. I grow mine on a south-facing wall of my house which was good, if lucky, placement. With a level of care bordering on neglect, they keep coming back every year. Saffron crocuses grow well in USDA hardiness zones 5-8.

Harvesting saffron is easy

When the crocuses bloom, they'll reveal three bright red threads inside. Those threads are the stigma, part of the plant's reproductive system and the thing you're after. Reach inside the flower with tweezers and pluck the threads out.

Fresh and dried saffron threads.

Freshly picked saffron is bright and red. Saffron shrivels and darkens as it dries.

Andrew Blok/CNET

Let the the threads dry before storing them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place until you're ready to cook with them. 

It may take a few years to grow enough saffron to recoup the cost of the bulbs, but not many. Leaving money out of it, saffron crocuses provide a yearly supply of delicious seasoning that's a luxury for most. And their pretty purple blooms are a reminder of spring just before heading into winter.

Now that you've dealt with the most expensive item on your grocery list, find more ways to save money while grocery shopping, cooking and preparing food. Check out more home tips for ways to make your home more comfortable, affordable and fun.