Saffron: An Herbal Option for ADHD

Statistics compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services show that over six million children are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About half contend with behavior issues, and a third deal with anxiety. Many children in the United States receive treatment, either in the form of behavior-focused therapy or with medications, or some combination of both. However, medications can affect sleep patterns and appetite, and about 30 percent simply don’t respond to them at all. Understandably, parents may feel reluctant to use them.

Fortunately, clinical research with saffron (Crocus sativus) shows that it is equal to the prescription drug methylphenidate (Ritalin is one brand name) in reducing ADHD symptoms in just six weeks.

Saffron has been also shown – even in small dosages – to reduce symptoms of depression, and to help individuals reduce habitual overeating and snacking, so it is not unusual that it may help balance other aspects of mental health and cognitive well-being.

The study authors note that larger, longer-term controlled studies need to be done in order to completely gauge how well saffron could be incorporated into protocols for children with ADHD. However, the fact that only 20 to 30 mg of the botanical per day was effective, can provide hope to parents wondering about other options for their children.



Baziar S, Aqamolaei A, Khadem E, et al. Crocus sativus L. Versus Methylphenidate in Treatment of Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind Pilot Study. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2019 Apr;29(3):205-212.

OBJECTIVE: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders of childhood and adolescence. About 30% of patients do not respond to stimulants or cannot tolerate their side effects. Thus, alternative medication, like herbal medicine, should be considered. The aim of this trial is to compare the safety and efficacy of Crocus sativus (saffron) versus methylphenidate in improving symptoms of children with ADHD.

METHODS: In a 6-week randomized double-blind study, 54 patients (children 6-17 years old) with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) diagnosis of ADHD were randomly assigned to receive either 20-30 mg/d (20 mg/d for <30 kg and 30 mg/d for >30 kg) methylphenidate (MPH) or 20-30 mg/d saffron capsules depending on weight (20 mg/d for <30 kg and 30 mg/d for >30 kg). Symptoms were assessed using the Teacher and Parent Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Rating Scale-IV (ADHD-RS-IV) at baseline and weeks 3 and 6.

RESULTS: Fifty patients completed the trial. General linear model repeated measures showed no significant difference between the two groups on Parent and Teacher Rating Scale scores (F = 0.749, df = 1.317, p = 0.425, and F = 0.249, df = 1.410, p = 0.701, respectively). Changes in Teacher and Parent ADHD Rating Scale scores from baseline to the study end were not significantly different between the saffron group and the MPH group (p = 0.731 and p = 0.883, respectively). The frequency of adverse effects was similar between saffron and MPH groups.

CONCLUSION: Short-term therapy with saffron capsule showed the same efficacy compared with methylphenidate. Nevertheless, larger controlled studies with longer treatment periods are necessary for future studies.