Antiviral Effects of Saffron and its Major Ingredients

Curr Drug Deliv. 2018;15(5):698-704. doi: 10.2174/1567201814666171129210654.


Background: The lack of an effective vaccine against viral infections, toxicity of the synthetic anti-viral drugs and the generation of resistant viral strains led to discover novel inhibitors. Recently, saffron and its compounds were used to treat different pathological conditions.

Method: In this study, we tested the anti-HSV-1 and anti-HIV-1 activities of Iranian saffron extract and its major ingredients including crocin and picrocrocin as well as cytotoxicity in vitro. The data showed that the aqueous saffron extract was not active against HIV-1 and HSV-1 virions at certain doses (i.e., a mild activity), but crocin and picrocrocin indicated significant anti-HSV-1 and also anti-HIV-1 activities. Crocin inhibited the HSV replication at before and after entry of virions into Vero cells. Indeed, crocin carotenoid suppressed HSV penetration in the target cells as well as disturbed virus replication after entry into the cells. Picrocrocin was also effective for inhibiting virus entry and also its replication.

Results: This monoterpen aldehyde showed higher anti-HSV effects after virus penetrating in the cells. Generally, these sugar-containing compounds extracted from saffron showed to be effective antiherpetic drug candidates.

Conclusion: The recent study is the first report suggesting antiviral activities for saffron extract and its major ingredients. Crocin and picrocrocin could be a promising anti-HSV and anti-HIV agent for herbal therapy against viral infections.

Keywords: Crocin; HIV-1 infections; HSV-1; herbal therapy; picrocrocin; saffron..

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Crocus*
  • Cyclohexenes / pharmacology*
  • Glucosides / pharmacology*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • HIV-1 / drug effects*
  • HIV-1 / physiology
  • HeLa Cells
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / drug effects*
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / physiology
  • Humans
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Terpenes / pharmacology*
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Plaque Assay
  • Virus Replication / drug effects


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cyclohexenes
  • Glucosides
  • Plant Extracts
  • Terpenes
  • Carotenoids
  • crocin
  • picrocrocin