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Botanical Description & Habitat

Carthamus tinctorius


Common Names
American saffron
Bastard saffron
Dyers' saffron
False saffron

Native to the Mediterranean countries, but cultivated in Europe and the United States.

Medicinal Parts

Historical Properties & Uses

Safflowers are distinctly diaphoretic and diuretic. Hot safflower tea produces copious perspiration, and is therefore the first thing many people turn to whenever they come down with a cold or fever.

However, its lack of flavor, compared with true saffron, has reduced its popularity.

Although many of the common names for safflower contain the word saffron, this is not the saffron, Crocus sativus, nor is it meadow saffron, Colchicum autumnale.

Safflower oil is expressed from the seeds of this plant, but just the flowers are used medicinally. The seeds contain up to 75% linoleic acid.

Erucic acid (from safflower oil) when combined with oleic acid forms the combination known as "Lorenzo's oil".


Rizzo, WB (& Odone, A) et al., Dietary erucic acid therapy for X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. Neurology, 1989, 39:1,415.

Method of Action

Safflower has Respiratory, Antibiotic and Anti-inflammatory Action
The flowers contain chalcone pigments, carthamine and the corresponding chinone charthamone. The flowers have been shown to have respiratory properties against bronchial coughs.

The above properties plus antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity have made safflower one of the most prescribed agents in German pharmacy for immune system enhancement.

Safflower is used in a popular Chinese heart remedy recently tried in 112 cases of angina pectoris. The success rate was 80%. In another study it was effective in reducing symptoms in elderly patients with coronary heart disease, probably through an ability to reduce the level of plasma beta-thromboglobulin.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
Safflower, insofar as its diuretic action increases the renal excretion of sodium and chloride, may potentiate the hyperglycemic and hyperuremic effects of glucose elevating agents.

The effects of dopamine and diuretic agents are additive. Diuretics may potentiate the action of antihypertensive drugs, ganglionic or peripheral adrenergic blocking drugs, tubocurarine and norepinephrine.

Possible Interactions
In conjunction with ACTH or corticosteroids, this diuretic is more prone to produce hypokalemia.

Use of diuretics may require dosage adjustments of antidiabetic drugs. The diuretic action of safflower may reduce renal clearance of lithium. An initial dose of captopril (an antihypertensive) may cause a severe drop in blood pressure within three hours if also using a strong diuretic. The antiinflammatory activity of safflower can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain other sedatives and hypnotics (chloral hydrate, meprobamate, etc.), as well as beta-adrenergic blocking agents such as propranolol. Colchicine may increase sensitivity or enhance the response to this herb.

Prolonged use of this diuretic may affect certain lab test results such as electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium, uric acid, glucose, and pbi.

Strong diuretics such as this in conjunction with indomethacin may produce natriuretic effects.

There is evidence combining bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the '-static' variety. How this finding applies to herbal antibiotics is not known.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Safflowers have no know side effects.

Preparation & Administration

Use twice daily

Steep 1 tsp flowers in 1 cup water

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Abraham, RD et al., Effects of safflower oil and evening primrose oil in men with a low dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid level. Athersoclerosis, 1990, 81(3):199.

Bhakuni, Dhar, Dhar, Dhawan & Mehrotra. Screening of indian plants for biological activity. Part II. Indian J of Experimental Bio. 1969.

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Chen, F.H., Z.H. Qian, W.Q. Zhang, et.al. The therapeutic effect of purified coronary heart II tablets on 112 cases of angina pectoris by double blind method. Chinese Journal of Cardiology, 10, 85, 1982.

Facts and Comparisons. The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Nov, 1992.

He, Y.S., K. Chen, et.al. The effect of Hua Xue No. 2 injection on plasma beta-thromboglobulin in aged patients with coronary heart disease. Chinese Journal of Integrated Medicine, 4, 586, 1984.

Lewis, D.A. Anti-inflammatory Drugs for Plant and Marine Sources, Birkhouse Verlag, Berlin, 1989.

Mowrey, Daniel B. Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herb Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Train Inst. Dir of Research, Nova Corp.

Rizzo, WB (& Odone, A) et al., Dietary erucic acid therapy for X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. Neurology, 1989, 39:1,415.

Wagner, H. Immunprophylaxe und -therapie durch pflanzenpraeparte. Zhurnal der Allgemein Medizin. 59, 1282-1289, 1983.

Wardlaw, GM et al., Serum lipid and apolipoprotein concentrations in healthy men on diets enriched with canola oil or safflower oil. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1991, 54:104.


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