Avicenna's (Ibn Sina) the Canon of Medicine and saffron (Crocus sativus): a review

Phytother Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):475-83. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4784. Epub 2012 Jul 20.


In this review, we introduce the traditional uses of saffron and its pharmacological activities as described by either Avicenna in Book II, Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi al-tib) or from recent scientific studies. Modern pharmacological findings on saffron are compared with those mentioned in Avicenna's monograph. A computerized search of published articles was performed using MEDLINE, Scopus and Web of Science databases as well as local references. The search terms used were saffron, Crocus sativus, crocin, crocetin, safranal, picrocrocin, Avicenna and 'Ibn Sina'. Avicenna described various uses of saffron, including its use as an antidepressant, hypnotic, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, bronchodilatory, aphrodisiac, inducer of labour, emmenagogue and others. Most of these effects have been studied in modern pharmacology and are well documented. The pharmacological data on saffron and its constituents, including crocin, crocetin and safranal, are similar to those found in Avicenna's monograph. This review indicates that the evaluation of plants based on ethnobotanical information and ancient books may be a valuable approach to finding new biological activities and compounds.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carotenoids / pharmacology
  • Cosmetics / pharmacology*
  • Crocus / chemistry*
  • Cyclohexenes / pharmacology
  • Herbal Medicine / history*
  • History, Medieval
  • Incunabula as Topic
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Terpenes / pharmacology
  • Vitamin A / analogs & derivatives


  • Cosmetics
  • Cyclohexenes
  • Plant Extracts
  • Terpenes
  • trans-sodium crocetinate
  • Vitamin A
  • Carotenoids
  • safranal
  • crocin