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Edible uses


An edible oil is obtained from the seed. It contains a higher percentage of essential unsaturated fatty acids and a lower percentage of saturated fatty acids than other edible vegetable seed oils[1]. The oil, light coloured and easily clarified, is used in salad dressings, cooking oils and margarines[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][1]. A very stable oil, it is said to be healthier than many other edible oils and its addition to the diet helps to reduce blood-cholesterol levels[9].

Seed - cooked. They can be roasted, or fried and eaten in chutneys[10][11][7][1]. Tender young leaves and shoots - cooked or raw[11][12][13]. A sweet flavour, they can be used as a spinach[14][7]. A famine food, it is only used when all else fails[15]. An edible yellow and a red dye are obtained from the flowers[8]. The yellow is used as a saffron substitute to flavour and colour food[7][8].

The (fried?) seeds are used as a curdling agent for plant milks etc[7].

Unknown part


Material uses

The seed yields up to 40% of a drying oil[16], it is used for lighting, paint, varnishes, linoleum and wax cloths[17][12][1]. The oil can also be used as a diesel substitute[1]. It does not yellow with age[16]. When heated to 300°c for 2 hours and then poured into cold water, the oil solidifies to a gelatinous mass and is then used as a cement for glass, tiles, stones etc or as a substitute for 'plaster of Paris'. If the oil is heated to 307°c for 2½ hours, it suddenly becomes a stiff elastic solid by polymerization and can then be used in making waterproof cloth etc[16].

A yellow dye is obtained by steeping the flowers in water, it is used as a saffron substitute[2][3][4][18][12][9].

A red dye can be obtained by steeping the flowers in alcohol[19][12][9]. It is used for dyeing cloth and, mixed with talcum powder, is used as a rouge to colour the cheeks[8].

Medicinal uses(Warning!)

Safflower is commonly grown as a food plant, but also has a wide range of medicinal uses. Modern research has shown that the flowers contain a number of medically active constituents and can, for example, reduce coronary heart disease and lower cholesterol levels[20][21].

Alterative, analgesic, antibacterial, antiphlogistic, haemopoietic[18][22][15]. Treats tumours and stomatitis[22]. The flowers are anticholesterolemic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, laxative, purgative, sedative and stimulant[3][4][23][24][25][1]. They are used to treat menstrual pains and other complications by promoting a smooth menstrual flow[26] and were ranked third in a survey of 250 potential anti-fertility plants[26]. In domestic practice, the flowers are used as a substitute or adulterant for saffron in treating infants complaints such as measles, fevers and eruptive skin complaints[3][1]. Externally, they are applied to bruising, sprains, skin inflammations, wounds etc[9]. The flowers are harvested in the summer and can be used fresh or dried[9]. They should not be stored for longer than 12 months[9]. It is possible to carefully pick the florets and leave the ovaries behind so that seed can be produced, though this procedure is rather more time-consuming[9]. The plant is febrifuge, sedative, sudorific and vermifuge[26]. When combined with Ligusticum wallichii it is said to have a definite therapeutic effect upon coronary diseases[26]. The seed is diuretic, purgative and tonic[25]. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism[25] and tumours, especially inflammatory tumours of the liver[1].

The oil is charred and used to heal sores and treat rheumatism[25]. In Iran, the oil is used as a salve for treating sprains and rheumatism[1].


Ecosystem niche/layer

Ecological Functions

Nothing listed.


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Seed - sow spring in gentle heat in a greenhouse. Germination usually takes place within 2 - 4 weeks at 15°c[27]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. The seed can also be sown in situ in April/May[27] but plants may not then mature their seed.

Practical Plants is currently lacking information on propagation instructions of Carthamnus tinctorius. Help us fill in the blanks! Edit this page to add your knowledge.


Succeeds in ordinary garden soil[28][19]. Safflower thrives in heavy clays with good water-holding capacity, but will also grow satisfactorily in deep sandy or clay loams with good drainage[1]. It needs soil moisture from the time of planting until it is flowering[1]. It requires a well-drained soil and a position in full sun[27][19][9]. Safflower is reported to tolerate an annual precipitation of 20 to 137cm, an annual average temperature range of 6.3 to 27.5deg.C and a pH in the range of 5.4 to 8.2[1]. Plants are reported to tolerate bacteria, disease, drought, frost, fungus, high pH, phage, salt, sand, rust, virus and wind[1].

Safflower grows in the temperate zone in areas where wheat and barley do well, and grows slowly during periods of cool short days in early part of season. Seedlings can withstand temperatures lower than many species; however, varieties differ greatly in their tolerance to frost; in general, frost damages budding and flowering thus reducing yields and quality[1]. Safflower is a long-day plant, requiring a photoperiod of about 14 hours. It is shade and weed intolerant, will not grow as a weed because other wild plants overshadow it before it becomes established. It is about as salt tolerant as cotton, but less so than barley[1]. Safflower matures in from 110-150 days from planting to harvest as a spring crop, as most of it is grown, and from 200 or more days as an autumn-sown crop[1]. It should be harvested when the plant is thoroughly dried. Since the seeds do not shatter easily, it may be harvested by direct combining. The crop is allowed to dry in the fields before threshing[1]. Plants are self-fertile, though cross-pollination also takes place[1]. Plants have a sturdy taproot that can penetrate 2.5 metres into the soil[1]. Safflower has been grown for thousands of years for the dye that can be obtained from the flowers[9]. This is not much used nowadays, having been replaced by chemical dyes, but the plant is still widely cultivated commercially for its oil-rich seed in warm temperate and tropical areas of the world. There are many named varieties[22][29]. A number of spineless cultivars have been developed, but at present these produce much lower yields of oil than the spiny varieties[1].

Safflower is unlikely to be a worthwhile crop in Britain since it only ripens its seed here in long hot summers. There is more chance of success in the drier eastern part of the country with its usually warmer summers, the cooler moister conditions in the west tend to act against the production of viable seed[K].


Problems, pests & diseases

Associations & Interactions

There are no interactions listed for Carthamnus tinctorius. Do you know of an interaction that should be listed here? edit this page to add it.

Polycultures & Guilds

There are no polycultures listed which include Carthamnus tinctorius.




None listed.


None listed.

Full Data

This table shows all the data stored for this plant.

Binomial name
Carthamnus tinctorius
Imported References
Material uses & Functions
Edible uses
None listed.
Material uses
None listed.
Medicinal uses
None listed.
Functions & Nature
Provides forage for
Provides shelter for
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
full sun
no shade
Soil Texture
Soil Water Retention
Environmental Tolerances
  • Drought
Native Climate Zones
None listed.
Adapted Climate Zones
None listed.
Native Geographical Range
None listed.
Native Environment
None listed.
Ecosystem Niche
None listed.
Root Zone Tendancy
None listed.
Deciduous or Evergreen
Herbaceous or Woody
Life Cycle
Growth Rate
Mature Size
Flower Colour
Flower Type


  1. ? Duke. J. Handbook of Energy Crops - (1983-00-00)
  2. ? Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-20459-6 (1972-00-00)
  3. ? Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin ISBN 0-14-046-440-9 (1984-00-00)
  4. ? Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants. MacDonald ISBN 0-356-10541-5 (1984-00-00)
  5. ? 5.05.1 Harrison. S. Wallis. M. Masefield. G. The Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press (1975-00-00)
  6. ? 6.06.1 Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants. Weinheim (1959-00-00)
  7. ? Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications ISBN 0-9628087-0-9 (1990-00-00)
  8. ? Phillips. R. & Foy. N. Herbs Pan Books Ltd. London. ISBN 0-330-30725-8 (1990-00-00)
  9. ? Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London. ISBN 0-7513-020-31 (1995-00-00)
  10. ? 10.010.1 Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man. Constable ISBN 0094579202 (1974-00-00)
  11. ? Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World. Keigaku Publishing (1976-00-00)
  12. ? Hill. A. F. Economic Botany. The Maple Press (1952-00-00)
  13. ? 13.013.1 Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption. Koeltz Scientific Books ISBN 3874292169 (1984-00-00)
  14. ? 14.014.1 Reid. B. E. Famine Foods of the Chiu-Huang Pen-ts'ao. Taipei. Southern Materials Centre (1977-00-00)
  15. ? Stuart. Rev. G. A. Chinese Materia Medica. Taipei. Southern Materials Centre ()
  16. ? Chakravarty. H. L. The Plant Wealth of Iraq. ()
  17. ? 17.017.1 Schery. R. W. Plants for Man. ()
  18. ? Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs. Rodale Press ISBN 0-87857-262-7 (1979-00-00)
  19. ? Buchanan. R. A Weavers Garden. ()
  20. ? 20.020.1 Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants Dorling Kindersley. London ISBN 9-780751-303148 (1996-00-00)
  21. ? 21.021.1 Medicinal Plants in the Republic of Korea World Health Organisation, Manila ISBN 92 9061 120 0 (1998-00-00)
  22. ? Kariyone. T. Atlas of Medicinal Plants. ()
  23. ? 23.023.1 ? A Barefoot Doctors Manual. Running Press ISBN 0-914294-92-X ()
  24. ? 24.024.1 Yeung. Him-Che. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas. Institute of Chinese Medicine, Los Angeles (1985-00-00)
  25. ? Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement). Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi. (1986-00-00)
  26. ? Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China Reference Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-917256-20-4 (1985-00-00)
  27. ? Bird. R. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 3. Thompson and Morgan. (1989-00-00)
  28. ? F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 Oxford University Press (1951-00-00)
  29. ? 29.029.1 Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press ISBN 0-333-47494-5 (1992-00-00)

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