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Saffron, Greece's 'red gold,' fuels trade in wilted economy

Greeks have been cultivating saffron for three centuries in the countryside surrounding Krokos, which takes its name from Crocus, the saffron flower. Alexander the Great is said to have used it to heal battle wounds.

But until 2000, production was limited to 30 kg a year for domestic consumption, said Nikos Patsiouras, who heads Greece’s Cooperative of Saffron.

That changed in 2008, when the crisis hit. Greece now produces about four tonnes a year, 70 percent of which goes abroad. The Cooperative has doubled its members from 494 to 1,000. It also has increased its land from 592 acres in 2008 to 1,349 acres.

“A lot of young people found work in the fields — scientists,” Patsiouras said. “I believe more will join.”

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