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What is Safflower?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Safflower, which is also known as carthamus tinctorius, is a plant that is primarily grown for use as a herbal medication and for food. The plant is native to India, Iran, and North Africa, and it can also be found in other parts of the world, including areas on North America. Safflower grows to be approximately 3-feet (1 meter) tall, and it produces white and red flowers. These plants are generally harvested in the summertime.

There is an oil with many popular uses that can be made from the seeds of safflower. It generally works very well for deep frying, and it is often used in salad dressings because it doesn’t congeal when refrigerated. The oil is frequently used in certain skin products, and it generally works well in this capacity, partly because it has no odor.

Safflower has been used very extensively as a herbal medicine. Some cultures use it to treat fevers and other flu-like symptoms, while others use it as a laxative. In some places, people believe that it can help start menstruation, and some use it for treating skin rashes and burns or cleaning wounds.

The seeds have often been used to feed birds. One of the big advantages of these seeds over other kinds of feed is that only certain birds like them. Most undesirable birds and squirrels will not eat safflower seeds, so they allow people to be more selective about the kinds of birds they attract to their feeders.

In ancient times, the plant was often used to create a red dye. This dye was used as a primitive form of makeup and to change the color of clothing. Even in those times, people also extracted cooking oil from the plant’s seeds, and it was also used as a replacement for the herb saffron in some cooking situations.

There are potential dangers associated with safflower. Some reports indicate that an overdose can cause severe problems in pregnant women or even miscarriage. It has also been blamed for causing a thinning of blood, so people with bleeding conditions like ulcers may wish to avoid it. For this same reason, some experts say it’s not a good idea to mix safflower-based products with blood-thinning medications, because they may work together and cause an extreme reaction.

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Discussion Comments
By anon994994 — On Mar 23, 2016

Saffron and safflower are totally different. Saffron is from a flower called crocus sativus and safflower is closely related to the sunflower. Safflower tops resemble saffron pistils but do not have any flavor. Of course the difference in price should tell you something: saffron is about $10-20 per gram while safflower is about $2-3 per pound. I used to grow safflower and sold the seeds for bird food.

By anon936769 — On Mar 02, 2014

@ anon302166 & @fify: Saffron and safflower are completely different plants, although people do use safflower as a diluting agent of sSaffron or use it in place of it.

By anon320504 — On Feb 18, 2013

Is safflower suitable for a thyroid patient?

By anon302166 — On Nov 07, 2012

@fify: Saffron and safflower are completely different plants.

By anon301265 — On Nov 03, 2012

Please note: safflower oil is very dangerous if you have liver failure and even more so if you are taking omega 3/fish oils which I do, both. My liver failure, which had greatly improved in several months of alternative treatment, came back in full force after I added the "healthy" (not so!) safflower oil mayonnaise to my organic, sprouted bread sandwiches.

Suspecting this new addition to my diet, a search on keywords safflower oil and fatty liver landed me on medical journals that have this title: "Fish oil prevents sucrose-induced fatty liver but exacerbates high-safflower oil-induced fatty liver in ddy mice" Further research indicates that safflower oil is very toxic to the liver, regardless of fish oils or no fish oils.

I think that's an omega 6 which is bad for human consumption and highly present in processed foods under guise of 'healthy oils' like the GMO corn, soybean, canola and cottonseed. Sunflower oil appears to be almost as bad, but I need to do more research on that one.

Bottom line: if you have any kind of liver damage or illness, please look up all your labels and if you find "safflower oil" do an online search before ingesting it. And Western M.D's are here again notoriously clueless. Better safe than sorry. Learn from my terrible experience and be well everyone!

By hyrax53 — On Jul 20, 2011

@recapitulate- in places like pet stores it is usually around the same price as sunflower seeds, and you can buy it in bags of 5 pounds or so pretty commonly, I think. It might be even less expensive if you buy it in a store specifically for bird supplies.

By recapitulate — On Jul 20, 2011

I had not heard about safflower being used to feed birds; I think most people in my area use generic "birdseed" in their gardens. Does anyone know, is it more expensive?

By letshearit — On Jul 19, 2011

Safflower as a weight loss aide can work surprisingly well if you are willing to stick with using it and make it part of your healthy diet. There have been some scientific reports done that have shown that safflower helps people to lose around 3.2% of their body fat over a 16-week period but warns that safflower in weight loss needs further study.

When taken in moderation safflower oil has also been shown to help the fasting glucose levels in diabetics. Combining this with a reduction in overall body mass can be a real lifesaver for those who are suffering from this disease.

I think it is a good idea to try safflower out for yourself to see if it helps you. With any herbal supplement there is always going to be controversy about its effects and whether or not it works.

For myself, I took safflower for two months and combined it with exercise and healthy eating. Not being part of some secluded research group didn't allow me to figure out if the oil was really helping me lose weight or not. I suppose though, that if you like the idea of safflower oil's other benefits than it can be worth taking.

By wander — On Jul 18, 2011

@anamur - If you are thinking about using safflower supplements for the long term you should be aware that if you have any allergies to plants like ragweed or marigolds that you could be at a higher risk of developing side effects from safflower oil. Besides the more severe side effects mentioned in the article, things like nausea, excess gas, headaches and chest pain have all been reported by those taking safflower oil.

Another thing that impacts the amount of side effects you may face is how much of the safflower oil you are taking and how often. In a worse case scenario the excess of some fatty acids in your diet contributed from safflower can increase your risk of diabetes.

By SteamLouis — On Jul 18, 2011

@anamur-- I've heard the same thing about safflower oil. A friend of mine told me that her sister has been taking it to get rid of her belly fat and it has been working for her.

I asked my pharmacist about it and she told me that safflower oil supplements are sold under the name CLA. I looked up some vitamin stores online and it seems to be pretty affordable.

I don't know about potential side effects either. Since I've gone into menopause, I have been gaining weight and it is all located in my belly area. I'm eating healthy and exercising but it's not enough. I'm willing to try anything if it's going to help me loose some fat.

By fify — On Jul 18, 2011

I've heard people refer to safflower as "the saffron of poor men!" Apparently, real quality saffron is very expensive so people prefer to use safflower when they can't afford safflower. They say that some sellers abroad also trick tourists with safflower powder, making them think that it is saffron.

It might be cheaper, but I don't think that safflower is less quality or less preferable to saffron, they are just different. Most people add it to their dishes to give it a yellowish color and both saffron and safflower do that well. I don't have a problem with replacing saffron with safflower at all. Plus, my wallet is happier.

By serenesurface — On Jul 17, 2011

I'm not pregnant and I don't have any bleeding conditions either. Are there any other consequences I should know about the long term use of safflower supplements?

I've started taking the supplements recently because I read about a study saying that safflower helps weight loss. I am taking 500mg per day and I haven't experienced any changes in body weight or any side effects. But I didn't know about the risks mentioned here. I am a little worried about it, anyone know more about the side effects and risks?

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