Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius
L., is a member of the family Compositae or Asteraceae, cultivated mainly for its seed, which is used as edible oil and as birdseed.
Traditionally, the crop was grown for its flowers, used for colouring and flavouring foods and making dyes, especially before cheaper aniline dyes became available, and in medicines.
Safflower is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual, usually with many long sharp spines on the leaves.
Plants are 30-150 cm tall with globular flower heads (capitula) and commonly, brilliant yellow, orange or red flowers. Achenes are smooth, four-sided and generally lack pappus.
The plant has a strong taproot which enables it to thrive in dry climates. In India the crop has traditionally been grown in the ‘rabi’ or winter dry season in mixtures with other ‘rabi’ crops, such as wheat and sorghum. After emergence, the crop maintains a rosette form for some weeks before rapid elongation to mature height. The florets are self-pollinating but seedset can be increased by bees or other insects.
Safflower is one of humanity’s oldest crops, but generally it has been grown on small plots for the grower’s personal use and it remains a minor crop with world seed production around 800 000 t per year (Gyulai 1996). Oil has been produced commercially and for export for about 50 years, first as an oil source for the paint industry, now for its edible oil for cooking, margarine and salad oil. Over 60 countries grow safflower, but over half is produced in India (mainly for the domestic vegetable oil market). Production in the USA, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina and Australia comprises most of the remainder. China has a significant area planted to safflower, but the florets are harvested for use in traditional medicines and the crop is not reported internationally.
Li Dajue and Hans-Henning Mundel. Safflower. Carthamus tinctorius L. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops.7. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben/International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome Italy.
Dr. Richard C. Johnson initiated this website and is responsible for obtaining much of the information presented. Gwen Pentecost cheerfully edited the site for many years.
Many thanks to our other contributors: Dr. Jerald Bergman, Dr. Li Dajue, Dr. José Fernández-Martínez, Dr. Peter Griffee, and Dr. Hans-Henning Mündel.