Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual plant. It is commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from the seeds. Plants are 30 to 150 cm (12 to 59 in) tall with globular flower heads having yellow, orange, or red flowers. Each branch will usually have from one to five flower heads containing 15 to 20 seeds per head. Safflower is native to arid environments having seasonal rain. It grows a deep taproot which enables it to thrive in such environments.
Safflower is one of humanity's oldest crops. Chemical analysis of ancient Egyptian textiles dated to the Twelfth dynasty identified dyes made from safflower, and garlands made from safflowers were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. John Chadwick reports that the Greek κάρθαμος (kārthamos) name for safflower occurs many times in Linear B tablets, distinguished into two kinds: a white safflower (ka-na-ko re-u-ka, 'knākos leukā'), which is measured, and red (ka-na-ko e-ru-ta-ra, 'knākos eruthrā') which is weighed. "The explanation is that there are two parts of the plant which can be used; the pale seeds and the red florets."
Safflower was also known as carthamine in the nineteenth century.
It is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide. India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, the Arab World, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder.
Other names include Sallflower, Beni, Chimichanga, or Carthamus tinctorius.
Traditionally, the crop was grown for its seeds, and used for coloring and flavoring foods, in medicines, and making red (carthamin) and yellow dyes, especially before cheaper aniline dyes became available. For the last fifty years or so, the plant has been cultivated mainly for the vegetable oil extracted from its seeds.
Safflower seed oil is flavorless and colorless, and nutritionally similar to sunflower oil. It is used mainly in cosmetics and as a cooking oil, in salad dressing, and for the production of margarine. It may also be taken as a nutritional supplement. INCI nomenclature is Carthamus tinctorius.
There are two types of safflower that produce different kinds of oil: one high in monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid) and the other high in polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic acid). Currently the predominant edible oil market is for the former, which is lower in saturates than olive oil, for example. The latter is used in painting in the place of linseed oil, particularly with white paints, as it does not have the yellow tint which linseed oil possesses.
In dietary use, high–linoleic safflower oil has also been shown to increase adiponectin, a protein that helps regulate blood glucose levels and fatty-acid breakdown. During a 16-week, double-blind controlled study conducted at The Ohio State University, researchers compared high-linoleic safflower oil (SAF) with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). [clarification needed] They studied post-menopausal women who had high blood sugar and wanted to lose weight. These participants showed an average reduction of 6.3 percent belly fat and an average of 20.3 percent increase in the important belly fat hormone, adiponectin.
A study published in the BMJ  reported an analysis of data recovered from a randomized controlled trial performed in 1966-73 where safflower oil replaced animal fats in the diets of people who had had a heart attack. The group receiving extra safflower oil in place of animal fats had a significantly higher risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. As expected, increasing omega-6 linoleic acid from safflower oil in the Sydney Diet Heart Study significantly reduced total cholesterol; however, these reductions were not associated with [reduced] mortality outcomes. Moreover, the increased risk of death in the intervention group presented fairly rapidly and persisted throughout the trial.
Inclusion of the intervention data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study.
An updated meta-analysis of polyunsaturated fatty acid intervention trials showed trends toward increased risks of death from coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease from increasing omega-6 linoleic acid intakes suggesting that the cardiovascular benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids may be attributable to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
In culinary use, safflower oil compares favorably with other vegetable oils with its high smoke point.
In coloring textiles, safflower's dried flowers are used as a natural textile dye. The pigment in safflower is the benzoquinone-derived chemical carthamin and it is classified as a quinone-type dye. It is a direct dye which is also known as CI Natural Red 26. Yellow, mustard, khaki, and olive are the most common colors in textiles. Even bright reds and purples can be reached using alkaline processing. Indians used this red dye as their official red tape on legal documents. All hydrophilic fibers (all natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, etc.) may be dyed with this plant. Polyamide textiles can also be dyed without a mordant agent because of its wool-like chemical structure. Polyester, polyacrylonitrile, and others which are hydrophobic synthetic fibers can be dyed only in the presence of a mordant.
Ancient Egyptians found the flower pleasing to the eye and included it in garlands placed on mummies. Dried safflower flowers (草紅花 caohonghua, 紅花 honghua) are used in traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate pain, increase circulation, and reduce bruising. They are included in herbal remedies for menstrual pain and minor physical trauma. In India, the flowers are used for their laxative and diaphoretic properties, and are also used for children's complaints of measles, fevers and eruptive skin conditions.
The defunct pharmaceutical company SemBioSys Genetics tried to use transgenic safflower plants to produce human insulin as the global demand for the hormone grows. Safflower-derived human insulin was in the PI/II trials on human test subjects.
- Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 211
- John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World (Cambridge: University Press, 1976), p. 120
- De Candolle, Alphonse. (1885.)Origin of cultivated plants. D. Appleton & Co.: New York, p. 164. Retrieved on 2007-09-25.
-  Issues in safflower production in India
- Norris, LE; Collene, AL; Asp, ML; Hsu, JC; Liu, LF; Richardson, JR; Li, D, et al. (September 2009). "Comparison of dietary conjugated linoleic acid with safflower oil on body composition in obese postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes mellitus.". The American journal of clinical nutrition 90 (3): 468–76. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.27371. PMC 2728639. PMID 19535429.
- E.g. "safflower" in Webster's Dictionary, year 1828. E.g. "bastard saffron" in The Herball, or General Historie of Plantes, by John Gerarde, year 1597, pages 1006-1007.
- Dweck, Anthony C. (ed.) (June 2009), Nature provides huge range of colour possibilities, Personal Care Magazine, pp. 61–73, retrieved 30 Oct 2012
- 雷载权; 陈松育、高学敏 (1995). 中药学. 上海科学技术出版社. p. 206. ISBN 7-5323-3706-5.
- Phillip Stephan, SemBioSys Genetics Inc, product bulletin June 2008. http://www.sembiosys.com/pdf/SBS-1723-Product-FS(Insulin).pdf sembiosys.com
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- Ahmed M. Zahran, M. F. Omran, S. Z. Mansour and N. K. Ibrahim. Effectiveness of Carthamus tinctorius L. in the Restitution of Lipid Composition in Irradiated Rats. Egypt. J. Rad. Sci. Applic., 20(1) 75-94 (2007).
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