With a history of use of more than 4,000 years, one would think that Safflower, Carthamnus tinctorius would be an easy herb to research. Afterall, Safflower was used in ancient Egypt as a dye plant and in the preservation of mummies, as documented by Pliny, it has been a food crop, a substitute for saffron and a common cooking oil, also used in everything from the production of margarine to fuel. However, the plant’s use as a medicinal herb receives only brief mention in the books where I usually begin my research.
Culpepper lists Safflower as, “a pretty strong cathartic, evacuating tough viscid phlegm, both upwards and downwards, and by that means is said to clear the lungs, and help the phthisic. It is likewise serviceable against the jaundice; though grown pretty much out of use.” Mrs. Grieve seems to disagree in that she viewed Safflower as a gentle laxative appropriate for small children, “The flowers are the part used, their action is laxative and diaphoretic. In domestic practice these flowers are used in children's and infants' complaints - measles, fevers, and eruptive skin complaints. An infusion is made of 1/2 OZ. of the flowers to a pint of boiling water taken warm to produce diaphoresis.”
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states only, “During the Middle Ages various medical uses were found for this flower. Those with constipation or respiratory problems drank the juice of the seed mixed with chicken stock or sweetened water.” The complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness says that the high linoleic acid content of the oil makes it useful for lowering blood cholesterol, and states, “Infuse flowers as a laxative, diuretic and perspiration inducer, and to alleviate skin conditions.” Penelope Ody’s The Complete Medicinal Herbal lists the properties of Safflower as only, “laxative, diuretics and anti-inflammatory.”
Interestingly, the most complete listing for Safflower was to be found in a book I seldom utilize. In regard to Safflower, The How To Herb Book by Velma J. Keith and Monteen Gordon seems to be peerless:
Diaphoretic, Digestive, Laxative
Safflower is a natural digestive aid. It aids in the utilization of sugar in fruits and also utilization of oils. It contains natural hydrochloric acid.
-soothes and coats the entire digestive tract
-helps heal the walls of the intestines in diverticulitis
-stimulates glandular secretions in the intestines
-has mild laxative action in bowles
-acts as diuretic
-has ability to remove sticky phlegm from body
-helps heal lesions
-helps cholesterol levels in body
- neutralizes uric acid and lactic acid. Uric acid holds hardened deposits in joints that lead to gout and arthritis. These acids also are a cause of kidney stones.
Obviously, I need to re-read the How To Herb book, as even Plants for a Future states only:
Safflower is commonly grown as a food plant, but also has a wide range of medicinal uses. Modern research has shown that the flowers contain a number of medically active constituents and can, for example, reduce coronary heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Alterative, analgesic, antibacterial, antiphlogistic, haemopoietic. Treats tumours and stomatitis. The flowers are anticholesterolemic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, laxative, purgative, sedative and stimulant. They are used to treat menstrual pains and other complications by promoting a smooth menstrual flow and were ranked third in a survey of 250 potential anti-fertility plants. In domestic practice, the flowers are used as a substitute or adulterant for saffron in treating infants complaints such as measles, fevers and eruptive skin complaints. Externally, they are applied to bruising, sprains, skin inflammations, wounds etc. The flowers are harvested in the summer and can be used fresh or dried. … The plant is febrifuge, sedative, sudorific and vermifuge. When combined with Ligusticum wallichii it is said to have a definite therapeutic effect upon coronary diseases. The seed is diuretic, purgative and tonic. It is used in the treatment of rheumatism and tumours, especially inflammatory tumours of the liver. The oil is charred and used to heal sores and treat rheumatism. In Iran, the oil is used as a salve for treating sprains and rheumatism.
To put it mildly, it seems that in Safflower, we find a remarkably under-utilized herb in modern herbal medicine. However, some caution must be advised as to source. Safflower being a commercial oil crop, we must make sure that its flowers have not been tainted by chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In terms of the oil, we must ensure that it has not been produced through chemical extraction. Safflower is an herb we may certainly use for our benefit, but it would be best to purchase it only from reliable herbal wholesalers, or to grow it ourselves.