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Farming for Pharming: Novel Hydroponic Process in Contained Environment for Efficient Pharma-Grade Production of Saffron

TitleFarming for Pharming: Novel Hydroponic Process in Contained Environment for Efficient Pharma-Grade Production of Saffron
Publication TypeArticolo su Rivista peer-reviewed
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsNardi, Luca, Metelli Giulio, Garegnani Marco, Villani Maria Elena, Massa Silvia, Bennici Elisabetta, Lamanna Raffaele, Catellani Marcello, Bisti Silvia, Maggi Maria Anna, Demurtas Olivia Costantina, Benvenuto Eugenio, and Desiderio Angiola
Type of ArticleArticle

Soilless cultivation of saffron (Crocus sativus) in a controlled environment represents an interesting alternative to field cultivation, in order to obtain a standardized high-quality product and to optimize yields. In particular, pharma-grade saffron is fundamental for therapeutic applications of this spice, whose efficacy has been demonstrated in the treatment of macular diseases, such as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). In this work, a hydroponic cultivation system was developed, specifically designed to meet the needs of C. sativus plant. Various cultivation recipes, different in spectrum and intensity of lighting, temperature, photoperiod and irrigation, have been adopted to study their effect on saffron production. The experimentation involved the cultivation of corms from two subsequent farm years, to identify and validate the optimal conditions, both in terms of quantitative yield and as accumulation of bioactive metabolites, with particular reference to crocins and picrocrocin, which define the ‘pharma-grade’ quality of saffron. Through HPLC analysis and chromatography it was possible to identify the cultivation parameters suitable for the production of saffron with neuroprotective properties, evaluated by comparison with an ISO standard and the REPRON® procedure. Furthermore, the biochemical characterization was completed through NMR and high-resolution mass spectrometry analyses of saffron extracts. The whole experimental framework allowed to establish an optimized protocol to produce pharma-grade saffron, allowing up to 3.2 g/m2 harvest (i.e., more than three times higher than field production in optimal conditions), which meets the standards of composition for the therapy of AMD. © 2022 by the authors.


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Citation KeyNardi2022