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The wild saffron1 is the best; indeed, in Italy it is of no use whatever to attempt to propagate it, the produce of a whole bed of saffron being boiled down to a single scruple; it is reproduced by offsets from the bulb. The cultivated saffron is larger, finer, and better looking than the other kinds, but has much less efficacy. This plant is everywhere degenerating,2 and is far from prolific at Cyrenæ even, a place where the flowers are always of the very finest quality. The most esteemed saffron, however, is that of Cilicia, and there of Mount Corycus in particular; next comes the saffron of Mount Olympus, in Lycia, and then of Centuripa, in Sicily; some persons, however, have given the second rank to the Phlegræan3 saffron.

There is nothing so much adulterated4 as saffron: the best proof of its goodness is when it snaps under pressure by the fingers, as though it were friable;5 for when it is moist, a state which it owes to being adulterated, it is limp, and will not snap asunder. Another way of testing it, again, is to apply it with the hand to the face, upon which, if, good, it will be found to be slightly caustic to the face and eyes. There is a peculiar kind, too, of cultivated saffron, which is in general extremely mild, being only of middling6 quality; the name given to it is "dialeucon."7 The saffron of Cyrenaica, again, is faulty in the opposite extreme; for it is darker than any other kind, and is apt to spoil very quickly. The best saffron everywhere is that which is of the most unctuous quality, and the filaments of which are the shortest; the worst being that which emits a musty smell.

Mucianus informs us that in Lycia, at the end of seven or eight years, the saffron is transplanted into a piece of ground which has been prepared for the purpose, and that in this way it is prevented from degenerating. It is never8 used for chaplets, being a plant with an extremely narrow leaf, as fine almost as a hair; but it combines remarkably well with wine, sweet wine in particular. Reduced to a powder, it is used to perfume9 the theatres.

Saffron blossoms about the setting of the Vergiliæ, for a few days10 only, the leaf expelling the flower. It is verdant11 at the time of the winter solstice, and then it is that they gather it; it is usually dried in the shade, and if in winter, all the better. The root of this plant is fleshy, and more long-lived12 than that of the other bulbous plants. It loves to be beaten and trodden13 under foot, and in fact, the worse it is treated the better it thrives: hence it is, that it grows so vigorously by the side of foot-paths and fountains. (7.) Saffron was already held in high esteem in the time of the Trojan War; at all events, Homer,14 we find, makes mention of these three flowers, the lotus,15 the saffron, and the hyacinth.

1 Or Crocus, the Crocus sativus of Linnæus, from the prepared stigmata of which the saffron of commerce is made. It is still found growing wild on the mountains in the vicinity of Athens, and is extensively cultivated in many parts of Europe.

2 "Degenerans ubique." Judging from what he states below, he may possibly mean, if grown repeatedly on the same soil.

3 He may allude either to the city of Phlegra of Macedonia, or to the Phlegræan Plains in Campania, which were remarkable for their fertility. Virgil speaks of the saffron of Mount Tmolus in Cilicia.

4 It is very extensively adulterated with the petals of the marigold, as also the Carthamus tinctorius, safflower, or bastard saffron.

5 This is the case; for when it is brittle it shows that it has not been adulterated with water, to add to its weight.

6 Perhaps the reading here, "Cum sit in medio candidum," is preferable; "because it is white in the middle."

7 "White throngbout."

8 He contradicts himself here; for in c. 79 of this Book, he says that chaplets of saffron are good for dispelling the fumes of wine.

9 "Ad theatra replenda." It was the custom to discharge saffron-water over the theatres with pipes, and sometimes the saffron was mixed with wine for the purpose. It was discharged through pipes of very minute bore, so that it fell upon the spectators in the form of the finest dust. See Lucretius, B. ii. l. 416; Lucan, Phars. ix. l. 808–810; and Seneca, Epist. 92.

10 It flowers so rapidly, in fact, that it is difficult to avoid the loss of a part of the harvest.

11 The whole of this passage is from Theophrastus, De Odorib.

12 This statement, though borrowed from Theophrastus, is not consistent with fact. The root of saffron is not more long-lived than any other bulbs of the Liliaceæ.

13 Because. Dalechamps says, all the juices are thereby thrown back into the root, which consequently bears a stronger flower the next year.

14 II. xiv. l. 348.

15 See B. xiii. c. 32.

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