What is the X in X-mas?
c.1200, from Old French safran (12c.), from Medieval Latin safranum (cf. Italian zafferano, Spanish azafran), ultimately from Arabic az-za'faran, which is of unknown origin. As a color word and an adjective, late 14c. German Safran is from French; Russian shafran' is from Arabic.
Heb. karkom, Arab. zafran (i.e., "yellow"), mentioned only in Cant. 4:13, 14; the Crocus sativus. Many species of the crocus are found in Palestine. The pistils and stigmata, from the centre of its flowers, are pressed into "saffron cakes," common in the East. "We found," says Tristram, "saffron a very useful condiment in travelling cookery, a very small pinch of it giving not only a rich yellow colour but an agreable flavour to a dish of rice or to an insipid stew."