Carthamus tinctorius

Carthamus tinctorius

The safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) is an annual herbaceous species of the Asteraceae family.

Systematic –
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Kingdom Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Asterales Order, Asteraceae Family, Cichorioideae Subfamily, Cardueae Tribe, Centaureinae Subtribe and then to the Carthamus Genus and to the C. tinctorius Genus.

Etymology –
The term Carthamus comes from the Hebrew quarthami dye or from the Arabic kartam tincture (qortom tingere, saffron) due to the presence of yellow pigments contained in the flowers of Carthamus tinctorius. The specific epithet tinctorius comes from tíngo dye: used to dye fabrics.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Safflower is an annual plant of origin within a vast range ranging from continental Asia (Iran, Pakistan) to East Africa (Sudan, Ethiopia). It is a species, spontaneous and infesting, that grows wild both in continental and hot or coastal climates; it is also cultivated, to extract safflower oil (from seeds) and, from flowers, cartamine: a food coloring with an aroma and a flavor that is somewhat reminiscent of saffron.

Description –
Carthamus tinctorius is an annual species that can reach a height between 20 and 100 centimeters; it has an erect and abundantly branched stem. The main root is fictitating, the secondary ones are plagiotropic. It has alternate and sessile leaves, with those placed lower down oblong and unarmed, while the higher ones are thorny. The inflorescences are of flower heads, consisting of 20-100 flowers surrounded by involucral bracts, with an orange-yellow color.
The fruits, commonly called “seeds”, are achenes, glossy, ovoid, with a high oil content (40-45%).

Cultivation –
For its cultivation safflower needs quite high temperatures during all the phases of the biological cycle. It is indeed a longidiurna plant. As for the ground, it is also suitable for clayey soils provided they have a good structure and no water stagnation, with neutral or sub alkaline pH; moreover, the Cartamo resists the salt soils well enough.
Regarding the water needs it is a plant that needs a lot of water (especially in the ripening phase) that can obtain thanks to the root system very developed in depth but can not stand the high humidity of the air. It needs very fertile soils with good nitrogen and potassium endowments. This is a typical renewal plant with a spring-summer cycle; if the climate is particularly favorable it can be sown in autumn.
As for the details of the cultivation technique, refer to the following sheet.

Uses and Traditions –
The Carthamus tinctorius is a plant cultivated since ancient times, both in Egypt, China, the Mediterranean basin and Ethiopia. Today, the world’s largest producer is India, followed by the United States and Mexico, with much lower surfaces. In Europe it is cultivated only in Spain and Portugal.
Safflower is especially important as an oil plant; it is an oil that is extracted from the seeds; these contain 60% in oil. The oil contains 75% omega 6 (linoleic acid) and vitamin K. Safflower oil is used to produce special vitaminized margarines. It is indicated as regenerative of the skin.
As for its use in painting, however, this is quite recent: the oil extracted from the plant is used to slowly dry the colors. An advantage is that it softens and fluidizes the colors; moreover, since it is only slightly straw yellow and not subject to yellowing over time, it is recommended for white colors and very soft colors or pastel shades.
Saffron powder can replace saffron in the kitchen, even if it has a rather mild taste, while the color is intense. It is also used as an industrial coagulant. This spice has the power to coagulate milk and make consistent creams and puddings.
As colorant it is used in the manufacture of bows and lipsticks. Safflower extract is spreading as a dye in food products.
In popular tradition, the safflower is associated with the properties of prolonged physical vigor, mental agility and sexual activity.
In the Middle Ages, an infusion of safflower was administered to people no longer young, and the same custom is still in vogue in India and Africa.
Safflower or zafferanone is used both from antiquity as a medicinal plant for its excellent sudorific, diuretic and antipyretic properties, useful for lowering the body temperature in case of fever, cold and flu.
In addition, it has an effective anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving action, stimulates the circulation and activity of the heart, acts at the uterus level, promoting menstrual flow and relieving menstrual pains and those associated with menopause. It is also indicated in the treatment and treatment of liver disorders such as hepatitis and jaundice.
Safflower plant contains a large number of very important active ingredients, such as carbohydrates, lipids and vitamin C. It is extremely rich in vitamin K, which facilitates the production of prothrombin, an adjuvant that acts in the blood coagulation processes and osteocalin, a protein that is part of the bone tissue. The high content of this vitamin therefore confers a coagulant and anti-tumor action to the seeds of safflower, as well as making them valuable allies in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Recent studies by Ohio State University, conducted on overweight women, have finally shown how the consumption of safflower oil is able to lower blood glucose levels, decreasing the production of insulin. Furthermore, oleic acid and linoleic acid perform the function of metabolism accelerators.

Preparation Mode –
The Cartamo has important food uses; it is generally used in the form of seeds or oil. The seeds, which can be found in organic food stores and natural, can be added raw in salads or to give more consistency to yogurt and creamy snacks.
Moreover, as mentioned, the Cartamo is often used as a substitute for saffron because it is cheaper, even if it has a more delicate flavor. Moreover, it contributes, thanks to an enzyme contained in it, to make milk thicker and is perfect for giving consistency to creams and puddings.
But the most massive use of safflower is greater in the form of oil. It can be used both for cooking, when consumed raw, to season salads or meats. Moreover, it has a strong resistance to oxidation and rancidity and this particularity makes it suitable for frying that require a high temperature. It is also used to produce vitaminized vegetable margarines and natural supplements for those suffering from vitamin deficiencies. For the greater conservation of its organoleptic characteristics it is necessary to look for the cold-pressed one.
To prepare the infusion instead, you have to soak 2 g of safflower in a cup of boiling water, filter and drink with the addition of honey.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experience with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only and do not in any way represent a medical prescription; there is therefore no liability for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.




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