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Safflower or saffron is a spice obtained from the homonymous plant (Carthamus tinctorius L.).

Origins and History –
Safflower, also known by the term saffron, is a herbaceous plant with origins in Central Asia and has been known since ancient times.
Traces of this plant have been found in many finds in Egypt, Greece, China and throughout the Mediterranean basin.
Safflower was known and used since ancient Egypt where it was marketed for the oil that is extracted from it, for the dyeing of the fabrics thanks to its flowers and also as an officinal plant.
Even the Greeks and Romans appreciated this plant and its oil because we had already sensed its countless beneficial properties. Despite its ancient origin, safflower is still widespread and used. It is grown in India, the United States and Mexico. In Europe it is widely cultivated in Portugal and Spain.
In the Middle Ages it was used against asthma, cough and psoriasis, for its laxative properties and safflower seed infusions were used to restore strength and health to older people (this custom is still practiced in India and Africa today).

Description –
Safflower is a plant up to 1 m tall, glabrous, with erect, branched stems, with numerous alternate spiny oval leaves and yellow-reddish flower heads, containing two coloring substances, one yellow, soluble in water, the other red, insoluble, called cartamine, used in the past to dye silk, wool and cotton. Once fertilization has taken place (mainly autogamous) the ovaries of the flowers evolve into bright white achenes which at maturity have a water content of 9% -10% and an oil content of 38% -40%.

Active principles –
From the safflower plant, as mentioned, an oil and two coloring substances are obtained.
Safflower oil has a reduced percentage of saturated fatty acids and is particularly rich in oleic acid so as to be the vegetable oil with the highest percentage reached. It contains vitamin K and about 75% of omega-six fatty acid, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a well-known supplement thanks to its presumed slimming and cholesterol lowering qualities, capable of reducing the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood.
About 45% of safflower seeds are made up of fats, 20% of proteins and 33% of fibers. They are also rich in vitamins C and K and therefore very useful for cardiovascular disorders and arteriosclerosis.

Properties and Uses –
Safflower is a plant used for multiple uses since ancient times.
This plant is grown in hot countries from which a precious vegetable oil is extracted but also a coloring substance for food, textiles and cosmetics, the cartamine, with an aroma reminiscent of saffron.
Traditionally, the cassocks of Buddhist monks are still dyed with saffron flowers.
There are different varieties of safflower, selected over time also according to the needs of the reference market: those that produce oil with a greater quantity of oleic acid are destined for the food industry, due to their resistance to high temperatures and rancidity, while safflower which produces oil with greater quantities of linoleic acid is intended for the paint industry, for its drying properties.
Safflower oil is used to produce vitaminized vegetable margarines and natural supplements for those suffering from vitamin deficiencies.
Among the beneficial actions of this oil there also seems to be the adjuvant effect in weight loss and folk medicine gives it great properties: it strengthens physical and mental activity and helps sexual activity.
The high content of vitamin K gives safflower seeds a coagulating and anticancer action, as well as making them valuable allies in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Other uses of safflower oil are industrial ones, mainly for the production of make-up and for the composition of colors and paints.
In painting, safflower seed oil is used to thin the colors and slow down the drying process and thanks to its resistance to light, it does not turn yellow over time, therefore perfect for very light and pastel shades.
Safflower contributes, thanks to an enzyme, to thicken the milk, which is why it is perfect for giving consistency to creams and puddings.
As regards more recent uses, safflower extract is spreading as a colorant in food products also thanks to the European regulation 1333/2008, which requires from 2010, that in products containing the colorant tartrazine (for example in carbonated soft drinks such as cedar) the notice “May negatively affect the activity and attention of children” is mandatory.
In the kitchen safflower is used as a substitute for saffron, above all because it is much cheaper than the “rival” and also boasts a much more intense color, even if it is the flavor that appears more delicate to the taste.

Preparations –
As mentioned, safflower is often used as a substitute for saffron as it is cheaper than the first and has a much more intense color but a more delicate flavor.
The use instead as coagulant is in place only at an industrial level.
With safflower you can prepare an infusion; in this case, put 2 g of safflower in a cup of boiling water, filter and drink with the addition of honey.
This infusion is useful in case of asthma or cough.

Guido Bissanti

Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.

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