Safflower Oil: Facts About This Traditionally Used Oil

safflower oil

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  • Safflower oil is derived from the seeds of the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius L.), an annual broadleaf crop from the Compositae or Asteraceae family.
  • Ancient Egyptians used safflower as a dye or coloring agent for their clothing. Today, safflower plays a vital role for the meal, birdseed, and oil industries in the US.

Warning: This oil comes with potentially damaging side effects due to either the ingredient it's made from or the manufacturing process used to extract it. Because these negative effects overshadow the potential benefits, I do not recommend this oil for therapeutic use.

Always be aware of the potential side effects of any herbal oil before using.

Safflower oil is one of the many edible oils in the market lauded for positive health effects. While there may be some truth to this, there are potential disadvantages to consider when using this oil. Learn more about my recommendations on safflower oil and discover if its benefits outweigh its risks.

What Is Safflower Oil?

Safflower oil is derived from the seeds of the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius L.), an annual broadleaf crop from the Compositae or Asteraceae family:1 Native to many parts of Asia, Middle East, and Africa, the safflower plant is referred to as "kusum" in India (derived from the Sanskrit word "kusumbha") and as "hongua" in China.

One of the world's oldest crops, safflower has a history that goes back 4,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. While the initial evolution of growing safflower oil commercially began in the Great Plains in 1925, its large-scale production was not in full swing until the 1950s.

India is currently the largest leading commercial producer of safflower oil worldwide, followed closely by California in the United States and Mexico. Western states such as North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska also produce substantial amount of safflower, but on a rather small acreage.

Uses of Safflower Oil

Ancient Egyptians used safflower as a dye or coloring agent for their clothing. Today, safflower plays a vital role for the meal, birdseed, and oil industries in the U.S. Aside from these, safflower oil is also used as:

  • A spice – The dried safflower plant is also popularly used as a cheaper substitute for one of the most expensive and sought-after spice in Europe and the Middle East, saffron. This explains how it has gotten many related names like false saffron, bastard saffron, thistle saffron, and dyer's saffron.
  • An industrial ingredient – Prior to the 1960s, safflower oil was used primarily in manufacturing paints, varnishes, and other surface coatings.
  • An oil solvent in painting – Safflower oil can be mixed with artist's paints when painting in the absence of linseed oil.2
  • A hair conditioner – In olden times, Chinese women kept their hair shiny and healthy by massaging their scalps with safflower oil.

Composition of Safflower Oil

There are two types of safflower plant: (1) the oil-producing type rich in monounsaturated fatty acids or oleic acid, and (2) the type with high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids or linoleic acid.

Safflower oil's ratio of unsaturated versus saturated fat is 10:1. Oleic types of safflower oil offer approximately 78 percent monounsaturated, 15 percent polyunsaturated, and seven percent saturated fatty acids.3 The linoleic type of safflower oil, on the other hand, has 75 percent more polyunsaturated fat content than olive, soybean, cottonseed, corn, and peanut oils.4

Safflower oil is a concentrated source of omega-6 linoleic acid and provides no omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. I've repeatedly stated in my articles that it's very important to maintain the proper omega-3 and omega-6 ratio in your body. While both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential to your health, omega-6 is consumed in excess in the standard American diet — and it becomes even more problematic when damaged through processing.

Check out the Beginner Plan: Fats section of my nutrition plan for a more thorough discussion of the right type of fats you need in your diet.

Benefits of Safflower Oil

The medicinal properties of safflower have been discovered as early as the Middle Ages, where the juice of safflower plant is mixed with chicken stock or sweetened water to relieve constipation and respiratory problems.5 In traditional Chinese medicine, safflower petals are believed to stimulate blood circulation, reduce phlegm, and heal fractures.6

Today, research shows that safflower oil itself provides profound effects for:

  • Reducing the risks for heart disease by preventing atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries 7
  • Lessening or totally eliminating blackheads, whiteheads, and acne effectively8
  • Easing joint and muscle pain from traumatic injuries and arthritis by massaging safflower oil on the affected area externally 9
  • Alleviating menstrual cramps in women who suffer from painful menstrual periods by promoting the blood flow and removing clots10

However, remember that I only recommend coconut oil for cooking, as it is the only one stable enough to withstand high heat.

How to Make Safflower Oil

Safflower oil is extracted from the seeds of the safflower plant either by expeller pressing, solvent extraction, or a combination of both. In the chemical extraction process, the safflower oil is refined by heating and by adding other chemicals, which diminishes its natural nutritional benefits.

Typically, pure unrefined safflower oil has a deep yellow-orange color and provides a slightly nutty and earthy flavor. In contrast, refined or processed safflower oil is very pale in color and has a bland taste.11

Is Safflower Oil Safe?

I discourage taking safflower oil internally during, before, or after any kind of surgery without the approval of your physician. Because safflower oil can impede blood clotting, it can likely heighten your risk of bleeding post-surgery. Anticoagulants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may also increase hemorrhaging when taken with safflower oil.

Who are not advised to take safflower oil therapeutically?

  • Individuals who are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and sunflowers
  • Pregnant women, as it pose risks of uterine contractions and may induce onset of labor
  • Persons with hypotension, because it can lead to extremely low blood pressure

Belching, loose stools, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea have been reported in patients taking safflower oil daily.

To prevent any problems from occurring, never take safflower oil supplements with prescription medication or even simple over-the-counter drugs to avoid complications.

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