Toothed leaves and thistle-like orange flowers of safflower
Carthamus tinctorius


Family: Asteraceae
Other common names: Světlice barvířská (Czech), falscher safran (German), färberdistel (German), färbersaflor (German), saflor (German), öldistel (German), safrantistel (Norwegian), açafroa (Portuguese), açafrão-bastardo (Portuguese), azafrán (Spanish), cártamo (Spanish)
IUCN Red List status: Not Evaluated

Safflower is one of the oldest known cultivated crops.

It has been a highly valuable resource for thousands of years; first as a clothing and food dye, then as a cheap alternative to saffron, and now a cooking oil and vital ingredient in skin and hair care products.

Safflower is a herb with toothed leaves and thistle-like orange or yellow flowers. It has strong central stems that are erect and highly branched.

Read the scientific profile on safflower

Beauty and cosmetics

Oil from the seeds of the safflower plant has been used in skin and hair care products due to its moisturising properties.

It contains high levels of naturally occurring lipids that nourish and smooth hair cuticles, promote hair growth, and hydrate the scalp.

Safflower seed oil is also rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect your skin, as well as linoleic acid which can helps manage acne.

Food and drink

Safflower seed oil is used in salad dressings and margarine and as a cooking oil.

Safflower flowers were used as a cheaper substitute for saffron in traditional recipes by early Spanish colonies along the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

Materials and fuels

The flowers were traditionally used to make red and yellow dyes for both clothing and food before cheaper synthetic dyes became available.

  • Safflowers were highly popular among the ancient Egyptians. Their flowers were used to dye Egyptian textiles from the twelfth dynasty, and clothing made from safflowers was found on eighteenth dynasty mummies in Egypt.

Map of the world showing where safflower is native and introduced to
Native: Iran, Nicaragua, Turkey
Introduced: Afghanistan, Alberta, Algeria, Argentina Northeast, Argentina Northwest, Argentina South, Arizona, Assam, Austria, Baltic States, Bangladesh, Belgium, Borneo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Columbia, Bulgaria, California, Cambodia, Canary Islands, Central European Russia, Chile Central, Chile North, Chile South, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Colombia, Colorado, Crimea, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, East Aegean Islands, East European Russia, East Himalaya, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Gulf States, Hainan, Hungary, Idaho, Illinois, India, Inner Mongolia, Iowa, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Java, Kansas, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon-Syria, Lesser Sunda Islands, Libya, Madeira, Malaysia, Maluku, Manchuria, Massachusetts, Mauritius, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Montana, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nebraska, Nepal, Netherlands, New Mexico, New South Wales, New York, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, North Caucasus, North Dakota, North European Russia, North Macedonia, Northern Territory, Northwest European Russia, Ohio, Oman, Oregon, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qinghai, Queensland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sicily, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Australia, South European Russia, Spain, Sudan, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tasmania, Thailand, Tibet, Transcaucasia, Tunisia, Ukraine, Uruguay, Utah, Uzbekistan, Victoria, Vietnam, Washington, West Himalaya, Western Australia, Xinjiang, Yemen, Zimbabwe

Arid environments with seasonal rain. Grows best in well-drained, sandy loam soils in full sun.

Other plants

The geographical areas mentioned on this page follow the World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions (WGSRPD) developed by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG).