Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is an annual broadleaf crop primarily grown in the Great Plains area in the United States.1 The name is believed to be derived from the medieval French word “saffleur,” or from the Old Italian word “saffiore.”2 It is identified by its strong central stems that can grow from 12 to 36 inches tall, and branches that produce one to five yellow or orange flower heads that bloom in late July.3
The history of safflower is largely unknown, but it is believed to originate from Asia. Remnants of it have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating all the way back to 3,500 B.C.4 In India, it has been mentioned in early scriptures as “kusumba” and in China, it is known as “hong hua.”5 It reached America in the 1950s, mainly in California, Nebraska and Arizona.6
Today, safflower is a widely grown crop around the world and is economically important to many countries, including the United States. Major global producers include Mexico, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Australia, China, India and Argentina.7
Health Benefits of Using Safflower
Safflower is known to provide a positive effect on the following:
• Heart Health and Diabetes
Consuming safflower regularly may have a positive benefit for diabetics with heart conditions. In a study involving 55 post-menopausal obese women with type 2 diabetes, researchers tested the effects of safflower on the participants for 16 weeks. At the end of the study, the authors noted that 8 grams of safflower oil every day helped improve glycemia, inflammation and blood lipids among the subjects.8
A recent study published in Acta Biochimica et Biophysica Sinica suggests that safflower oil may have a positive effect against obesity. In the study, mice fed with a diet high in safflower oil exhibited a noted reduction in weight, as well as lower levels of orexin and ghrelin gene suppression.9
• Hair and Skin Health
Safflower oil contains oleic acid that can help stimulate hair growth and strengthen your hair follicles. It helps keep your hair strong and shiny.10 Safflower may help prevent the formation of blackheads as well, which is why its essential oil is used in many skincare products.11
• Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
The linoleic acids in safflower can help regulate the prostaglandins in your body that can cause hormonal fluctuations and problems during menstruation.12
The Different Applications of Safflower
Safflower has proven to be quite versatile throughout history. If you’re an animal lover, you can give safflower seeds to birds that land in your backyard via a small feeder. They are enjoyed by many species of birds, such as nuthatch, titmice and rose-breasted grosbeaks.13 If you’re a rancher, you can grow safflower to serve as food for sheep and cattle. If there are leftovers after a frost, you can turn them into hay for horses.14
In addition, farmers can take advantage of safflower’s prickly leaves to prevent wildlife from entering cash crop fields. Simply plant a few rows around the boundaries to keep your harvest safe.15 Safflower has also been used in fashion. The Chinese dyed silk products with it, while the Egyptians used it to create a red linen cloth. It’s even believed that the textiles found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb were dyed with safflower.16
There are two dye colors that can be extracted from safflower: yellow and red. To create the yellow dye, safflowers are soaked in mild vinegar anywhere from a few hours to overnight. To produce the red dye, the flowers used to create the yellow dye are rinsed and soaked again, this time in an alkaline solution made of ammonia or washing soda. Then, vinegar is added again to turn bring out the red color.17
Growing Safflower in Your Garden
Growing safflower in your own home is a great way of avoiding dangerous toxins that typically come with commercially grown herbs. But before you start cultivating it, you need to survey your environment first. Safflower grows best in areas with a long, hot summer and rainfall that measures less than 15 inches throughout the year.18 The soil should be well-draining and deep because safflower roots can grow 10 inches downward.
Place the bed away from heavy foot traffic because once the flowers grow, they become covered in stiff spines that can prick the skin when touched.19 Start by planting the seeds 6 to 10 inches apart, 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate, which is estimated to be between 10 and 24 days. Once seedlings emerge, reduce watering to a moderate amount.20
In three to four months, flowers will eventually bloom and they can be harvested immediately.21 If you want to grow more, harvest the seed heads once the foliage turns brown and becomes brittle, then plant again.22
Safflower can be enjoyed in different ways, but the most convenient method is to drink it as tea. Follow the instructions below to make your own tea that you can enjoy alongside a healthy snack.23
Safflower Recipe: Safflower Tea
- 1 tsp. of dried safflower petals
- 1 cup of filtered water
1. Bring the water to a boil.
2. Pour the water in a teacup along with the dried petals.
3. Let the tea simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Serve and enjoy.