Safflower is an annual plant native to the Mediterranean countries and cultivated in Europe and the U.S. Its glabrous, branching stem grows from 1 to 3 feet high and bears alternate, sessile, oblong, or ovate-lanceolate leaves armed with small, spiny teeth. The orange-yellow flowers grow in flower heads about 1 to 11/2 inches across. This thistle is valued for its orange-yellow flowers in summer and for the oil contained in its seeds. The orange-red flowers of safflower sometimes serve as a substitute for saffron, since they give a (rather pale) colour to the food. They are frequently sold as “saffron” to tourists in Hungary or Northern Africa (and probably many other parts of the world) Their value as spice is nearly nil, but their staining capability justifies usage in the kitchen.
Safflower is a fast growing, erect, winter/spring-growing annual herb, that resembles a thistle. Originating from a leaf rosette emerges a branched central stem (also referred to as terminal stem), when day length and temperature increase. The main shoot reaches heights of 30-150 cm (12-59 in). The plant also develops a strong taproot, growing as deep as 2 m. First lateral branches develop, once the main stem is about 20-40 cm high. These lateral branches can then branch again to produce secondary and tertiary branches. The chosen variety as well as growing conditions influence the extent of branching.
Safflower usually emerges 1-3 weeks after sowing and grows slower under low temperatures. Germination of safflower is epigeal. The first true leaves emerging form a rosette. This stage occurs in winter with short daylength and cold temperature, as the safflower can tolerate frosts up to -7C° during the rosette stage.
When temperature and daylength start to increase, the central stem begins to elongate and branch, growing more rapidly. Early sowing allows more time for developing a large rosette and more extensive branching, which results in a higher yield.
Taken hot, safflower tea produces strong perspiration and has thus been used for colds and related ailments. It has also been used at times for its soothing effect in cases of hysteria, such as that associated with chlorosis. Powdered seeds made into a poultice used to ally inflammation of the womb after child birth. Flowers of this herb is useful for jaundice.