Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) the Underutilized and Neglected Crop: A Review
Safflower (Carthamus tintorius L.) belongs to the family Compositae or Asteracea. Its a multipurpose oilseed crop grown mainly for its high quality edible oil and bird seed. Initially safflower oil was used as a source of oil for the paint industry, now its edible oil is used for cooking, making margarine and salad oil. Safflower is also grown for its flowers which are used as cut flowers, colouring and flavouring foods, making dyes for the textile industry, livestock forage, vegetable, making herbal teas and medicinal purposes. In China safflower is grown as a medicinal plant for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, male and female sterility, lowering blood cholesterol, release of retained placenta and still birth, induction of labour in expectant women, delayed, heavy and painful menstrual periods, various types of rheumatism (sciatica, thorax, arthritis), respiratory diseases (whooping cough, chronic bronchitis), gastritis, etc. Despite the many uses of safflower, it has remained a minor crop. Therefore, it is essential for the scientific community to carry out research on this crop and popularize it as a commercial crop for development of pharmaceuticals, edible oil, paint and varnishes industry, dye extraction (carthamin), source of α-tocopherol, livestock feed, vegetable and cut flower.
Received: June 24, 2010;
Accepted: July 31, 2010;
Published: September 20, 2010
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) is commonly known as kusum in India
and Pakistan and honghua (red flower) in China (Chavan, 1961).
Its use as a less costly saffron is indicated by the names false saffron, bastard
saffron, thistle saffron and dyers saffron (Weiss, 1983).
The common names of safflower vary with country, region, language and use (Chavan,
1961; Smith, 1996).
Safflower is one of humanitys oldest crops, with its use in China reported
over 2,200 years ago. Safflower seeds are reported in Egyptian tombs over 4,000
years ago. However, safflower cultivation remained a backyard crop for personal
use and as a result it remained a minor and neglected crop with world seed production
in 1989 estimated at 908,000 tons (Rowland, 1993). Safflower
oil has been produced commercially and for export more than 50 years ago (Dajue
and Mundel, 1996). Crop is also now grown commercially as a cut flower,
vegetable and medicinal plant. India is the main safflower producer (Ekin,
2005). The other producing countries of safflower are USA, Mexico, Ethiopia,
Argentina, Australia, China, Kenya, Canada, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Iraq, Iran,
Morocco and Russia (Dajue and Mundel, 1996). Safflower
has great potential to be developed as an important oilseed crop, cut flower,
medicinal plant, vegetable and animal feed. Therefore, the objective of this
manuscript is to create awareness of the potential of safflower so that the
international scientific community should research on the agronomy, physiology,
ecophysiology, high yielding varieties and hydrids with high oil seed content
and clinical and pharmacological trials to elucidate the effectiveness of safflower
in the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension,
inhibition of thrombus formation and dissolving thrombi, lowering blood cholesterol,
male sterility and dead sperm excess disease, infertility in women, etc.
Botany of safflower: Safflower belongs to the family Compositae or Asteraceae,
genus Carthamus. The cultivated Carthamus tinctorius L has a chromosome
number of 2n = 24 (Knowles, 1989; Lopez,
1989; Ekin, 2005). Safflower is a branching, thistle-like
herbaceous annual or winter annual plant, with numerous spines on leaves and
bracts (Fig. 1), mainly grown in dry hot climates as an oil
seed, birdseed or for its flowers, used as dyes and for medicinal purposes.
Safflower plant can grow to a height of 30-200 cm tall with globular flower
heads, bright yellow, orange or red flowers. It has a strong tap root that can
grow to a depth of 2-3 m, enabling it to thrive under dry climates. Safflower
is also grown in regions where rainfall is high and under greenhouse production
as a cut flower or vegetable. It can be grown in altitudes ranging from sea
level to 2000 m above sea level provided frost does not occur during the elongation
and flowering stages plant growth and development in the high altitudes.
|| Carthamus tinctorius L. showing the branching, flower
heads and open flowers
||Carthamus tinctorius L. at the start of the elongation
Figure 2 to 7 show the different stages
of growth and development of Carthamus tintorius L. (safflower). The
white achenes (seeds) weigh on average between 0.031 to 0.0589 g, are smooth
and four sided, with a thick pericarp (Fig. 8). Arslan
(2007) reported a seed weight of between 0.3767 to 0.444 g. Dajue
and Mundel (1996) reported safllower seed weight of between 0.030 to 0.045
g. Germination takes 3-8 days depending on temperature and germination occurs
at temperature as low as 2-5°C. Germination is followed by a slow growing
rosette stage, during which numerous leaves are produced near the ground level
and strong taproots develop. Safflower tolerates a wide range of temperatures
from -7 to 40°C, provided during the elongation and flowering stages of
growth and development there is no frost.
||Carthamus tintorius L. 1 week after start of elongation
During the rosette stage, safflower plant can withstand a temperature of -7°C
(Mundel et al., 1992). The rosette stage takes
20-39 days after emergence depending on the cultural practices, temperature
and photoperiod. Increasing day length from 10 to 14 h shortened the rosette
stage from 39 to 23 days for various safflower genotypes (Weiss,
1971). After the rosette stage, the stems elongate rapidly and branch extensively
(Fig. 3-5). The branch to angle range from
30 to 70° and the degree of branching is genetically and environmentally
controlled (Dajue and Mundel, 1996). Each stem ends with
a globular flower capitulum, enclosed by clasping bracts, which are typically
spiny (Fig. 1, 6, 7).
Safflower can grow to a height of 44 to 210 cm, depending on planting date,
spacing, soil moisture availability, soil fertility, photoperiod and temperature.
||Carthamus tinctorius L. 4 weeks after the start of
|| Carthamus tinctorius L. start of branching phase
||Carthamus tinctorius L. at the start of flowering (Botswana)
||Carthamus tinctorius L. with scarabid bird beetle pollinator
|| Carthamus tinctorius L. seeds (white)
Flowering begins from the primary capitulum, then secondary capitula and so
forth. Within a capitulum, flowering begins in the outer circle of florets and
progresses centripetally towards the centre of the capitulum. The flowering
period lasts 4-6 weeks depending on the cultural practices and climatic conditions
especially temperature. Shades of orange, yellow and red flowers are produced.
The florets are tubular and largely self-pollinating with generally less than
10% cross-pollination (Knowles, 1969). Bees, bumblebees,
beetles and other insects increase the level of cross-pollination (Fig.
7). Developed capitula (flower head) contain 13-71 achenes (seeds), which
mature in 4-5 weeks after flowering.
Safflower seed is composed of 33-60% hull and 40-67% kernel (Dajue
and Mundel, 1996; Pahlavani, 2005). The seed oil
content ranges between 20 to 45% depending on the variety and growing environment.
Leaf size varies significantly among varieties and even within the individual
plant, but ranges between 2.5 to 5 cm wide and 10 to 15 cm long. Leaves are
usually deeply serrated on the lower stem, but short and stiff, ovate to obovate
around the inflorescence, where they form the involcral bracts (Dajue
and Mundel, 1996). Lower leaves are generally spineless, but further up
the stem spines develop in the bud stage and become strong, hard spines by full
flowering. Varieties that are spineless have been developed for cut flower and
seed production and petal harvest for medicinal purposes in China and India
(Dajue and Mundel, 1996).
Uses of safflower: Safflower is a multipurpose oilseed crop grown mainly
as cut flowers, vegetables and for its high quality oil. The uses of safflower
have been recorded in China approximately 2,200 years ago (Dajue
and Mundel, 1996). Traditionally, safflower was grown for its seeds, for
colouring and flavouring foods, as medicines and for making red and yellow dyes,
especially before cheaper aniline dyes became available (Weiss,
1971). In Egypt, dye from safflower was used to color cotton and silk as
well as ceremonial ointment used in religious ceremonies and to anoint mummies
prior to binding. Safflower seeds and packets and garlands of florets have been
found with 4000-year-old mummies (Weiss, 1971).
Medicinal uses: In traditional Chinese medicine, safflower petals are
regarded as a stimulant for blood circulation and phlegm reduction, healing
of fractures, contusions and strains and for various female maladies. Production
of safflower has yielded many medicinal solutions. Thus safflower in China is
a medicinal plant. In Europe and the Middle East, petals are sometimes used
as an adulterant for saffron. In Pakistan, the seed decoctions are used to produce
heat and dryness in the body. When sugar is added it acts as a laxative (Knowles,
1965). The seeds can also be boiled and taken as a remedy for problem in
menses to increase blood flow. Ground safflower seeds mixed with mustard oil
reduce rheumatic pain (Knowles, 1965). In Kashmir, a
decoction of whole or ground seeds is used to flush out the urinary tract, improve
the liver and reduce hives (Knowles, 1965). Knowles
(1965), Wang and Li (1985) reported that safflower
seed is used for the treatment of urinary calculi. It has been realized that
a nasal drop of safflower and other herbs speed blood flow in the medial cranial
artery (Duo et al., 1992). It is also used to
treat cerebral thrombosis and has lowered blood pressure in over 90% of the
patients (Dajue and Mundel, 1996).
According to Liu (1985) it can be used to induce labour
and is more effective than western medicine. When boiled in wine along with
other flower decoctions is recommended to encounter retained afterbirth and
retained stillbirth Wang and Yili (1985). Women in Afghanistan
and India use a tea made from safflower foliage to prevent abortion and infertility
(Weiss, 1983). Herbalists in these countries sell all
parts of safflower to cure various ailments and as an aphrodisiac (Knowles,
In April 2007 it was reported that genetically modified safflower has been
bred to create insulin (SemBiosys, 2006). A pharmaceutical
company called SemBioSys Genetics is currently using transgenic safflower plants
to produce human insulin because the global demand for the hormone has grown
(SemBiosys, 2006). Safflower-derived human insulin is
currently in the PI/II trials on human test subjects. Insulin (SBS-1000) that
was extracted from safflower plants and was created by Sembiosys, has been injected
into people for the first time. The hope is that plants will provide a cheaper
source of insulin for people with diabetes (SemBiosys, 2006).
High oleic safflower oil is lower in saturates and higher in monounsaturated
than olive oil. High oleic oil is a beneficial agent in the prevention of coronary
artery disease (Dajue and Mundel, 1996).
Clinical use of safflower: Safflower dilates arteries, reduces hypertension
and increases blood flow and, hence, oxygenation of tissues (Deng,
1988; Wang and Yili, 1985). It also inhibits thrombus
formation and, over time, dissolve thrombi. Many prescriptions for invigorating
blood circulation, especially those for treatment of heart disease, include
safflower along with other herbs and have been used in the treatment of many
diseases (Wang and Yili, 1985). Cardiovascular disease
treatment is the main use of safflower because it invigorates blood circulation.
In 83% of patients with coronary disease, blood cholesterol levels was reduced
after 6 weeks of treatment (Wang and Yili, 1985). Experiments with dogs showed
that injections of safflower reduced damage done to the heart muscle by an infarction.
Heart arrhythmia and hypertension were reduced by safflower treatment 3 times
a day for 4 weeks (Wang et al., 1978; Wang
and Yili, 1985). Treatment of cerebral thrombosis with safflower improved
and lowered blood pressure in over 90% of patients (Wang
and Yili, 1985; Damao, 1987). Herbal decoctions
including safflower were effective in the treatment of cerebral embolism (Zhou,
Safflower decoctions have been used successfully for the treatment of male
sterility (Qin, 1990) and dead sperm excess disease
(Qu, 1990). Treatment with safflower resulted in pregnancy
in 56 of 77 infertile women who had been infertile for 1.5-10 years (Zhou,
Livestock feed: Safflower can be grazed or stored as hay or silage (Bar-Tal
et al., 2008). The forage is palatable and its feed value and yields
are similar to or better than oats or alfalfa (Smith, 1996;
Wichman, 1996). The in vivo digestibility and
the intake of green safflower fodder are similar to those of a vetch-oat mixture
(Vonghia et al., 1992). Grazed safflower has been
shown to support satisfactory growth rates in Australian steers (French
et al., 1988) and to improve fertility in Canadian ewes (Stanford
et al., 2001). Safflower also makes an acceptable livestock forage
if cut at or just after bloom stage (Bergland et al.,
2007). Safflower hay, given ad libtum, has been successfully used
as a sole feed for late-pregnancy dairy cows (Landau et
al., 2004). Safflower cropped at the budding stage can be ensiled (Weinberg
et al., 2002, 2005, 2007)
and safflower silage was substituted for cereal silage in the diet of high-yielding
dairy cows (Landau et al., 2004) and dairy sheep
(Landau et al., 2005) without affecting their
dairy performance. Safflower meal contains about 24% protein and is considerably
high in fiber. It can also be taken as a nutritional supplement. Therefore,
it is used as a protein supplement in livestock and poultry feeds. Safflower
silage has the potential for widespread adoption as a feed in many countries
especially in the semi-arid arid countries since safflower is drought tolerant.
Special characteristics such as protein degradability are taken into account
to optimize its inclusion in Total Mixed Ration (TMR) (Landau
et al., 2004).
Another use of Safflower seeds is as birdseed especially for members of the
parrot family and pigeons (Dajue and Mundel, 1996). Safflower
seed is also used quite commonly as an alternative to sunflower in bird feeds,
as squirrels do not like the taste of it (Blackshaw, 1993).
The bird feed industry prefers to use the white hull or normal hull type of
safflower even though striped and partial hull types usually are higher in oil
and protein content. The birdseed market does not have a preference for a fatty
Food uses: Food producers and industries use safflower oil. Safflower
oil is often considered a healthier option than using sunflower oil (Dajue
and Mundel, 1996). The oil consists of two types: that which is high in
monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid) and that which is high in polyunsaturated
fatty acid (linoleic acid). At the moment the predominant oil market is for
the varieties that produce seeds higher in oleic acid and very low in saturated
For the last 50 years or so, the plant has been cultivated mainly for the vegetable
oil that is extracted from its seeds. The tests in India have shown that seed
production from ratoon crop is also possible. Safflower oil is heat-stable,
therefore it is used as cooking oil to fry such foods as French fries, chips
and other snack foods. Safflower oil is also used in food coatings and infant
food formulations. Safflower oil is also used in salad dressing and for the
production of margarine. The flowers are occasionally used in cooking as a cheaper
substitute for saffron (Bergland et al., 2007).
Safflower leaves are eaten as vegetables (Weiss, 1983).
Safflower petals are used for colouring foods. Rice, soup, sauces, bread and
pickles take on a yellow to bright-orange colour from the florets. Health concerns
regarding synthetic food colourants may increase the demand of safflower-derived
food colourant. China produces carthamin dye for use in food. Safflower yellow
(carthamidine) and red (carthamin) pigments are safe and natural pigments which
can be used for colouring food and cosmetics (Kulkarni et
al., 1997; Zhaomu and Lijie, 2001). Safflower
petals is also used a pleasant-tasting herbal tea. In Iran, a paste of safflower
seeds is used to hasten cheese curd formation (Knowles,
1965). Roasted seeds, generally mixed with chickpeas, barley or wheat, are
eaten as a snack food in Ethiopia and Sudan (Belayneh and
Wolde-Mariam, 1991). The Egyptians grind the kernels and mix in sesame (Knowles,
Other uses of safflower: High linoleic acid safflower oil has an important
use in the paint industry. Before 1960's in the USA, the oil was used mainly
as a base for superior quality paints. It is used as a drying agent in paints
and varnishes because of its non-yellowing characteristic (Bergland
et al., 2007). Safflower oil is also used in making paint in place
of linseed oil. In textiles, dried flowers are used as natural dyes. Natural
dyes from plants are getting more important nowadays because of their naturality
and fashion trends. The colorful matter in safflower is carthamin which is benzoquinone-based
(SemBiosys, 2006). It has a dye of flavonoid type. Hydrophilic
fibres like cotton, wool and others can be dyed with safflower dye because it
is a direct dye. Safflower yellow or red pigments are safe for cosmetics colourings
such as hair cream, shampoo, face cream, perfume or body lotions (Shouchun
et al., 1993).
In Western Europe, Japan, Latin America and Kenya spineless varieties are grown
and used as cut flowers both for the domestic and export market. Safflower straws
have similar use as straws of cereals. Two or three rows of safflower around
a cereal field can help keeping free ranging cattle out of the grain field (Chavan,
Safflower agronomy: Safflower is a day neutral plant. However, the origin
of varieties is very important because summer crop varieties from temperate
regions, planted during short days as a winter crop in subtropical and tropical
regions, have a very long rosette phase, with delayed maturity. Plant density
varies greatly among countries. The plant density adopted is influenced by the
variety, climatic factors and cultural practices. When soil moisture is not
limiting, safflower compensates for low plant density by increased branching
and other yield components adjustments (Mundel, 1969).
The seeding rate ranges between 10 to 45 kg ha-1.
During the rosette stage of growth, safflower is a poor competitor with weeds.
Therefore, weed control at this stage is very important for yield optimization.
Herbicides such as triflurains and ethalfluralins (pre-emergence) and sethoxydim
(post-emergence) can be used for weed control (Blackshaw
et al., 1990). Safflower grows well in well-drained, deep, fertile,
sandy loam soils. In heavy clay soils, crusting may reduce seedling emergence.
In general, if soil moisture is limiting, good irrigation just prior to bloom
increases seed yield significantly. Safflower seed yield is affected cultural
practices (Siddiqui and Oad, 2006; Nikabadi
et al., 2008), cultivar (Arslan, 2007; Pahlavani,
2005; Pahlavani Saeidi et al., 2006; Alizadeh
and Jirair, 2006; Mahasi et al., 2006; Oad
et al., 2002) and climatic factors (Kolte, 1985;
Abdulahi et al., 2007). Excessive rainfall during
flowering causes several leaf and flower head diseases resulting in yield reduction
(Kolte, 1985). Prolonged rainfall during flowering interferes
with pollination and seed set, so do high temperatures greater than 32°C
(Mundel et al., 1992). Siddiqui
and Oad (2006) reported that application of 120 kg N ha-1 significantly
increased safflower branches, seed index, plant height and seed yield, but delayed
Safflower was developed from wild species of desert or arid environment and
is very susceptible to foliar diseases favoured by a moist growing environment.
Safflower is susceptible to leaf blight caused by Alternaria carthami
in growing areas with high rainfall and where rainfall occurs between the late
bud stage and near maturity. Other foliar diseases of concern are those caused
by Botrytis cinerea, Cercospora carthami, Pseudomonas syringae,
Puccinia carthami and Ramularia carthami (Mundel
et al., 1992). Safflower is also susceptible to root-rot caused by
several species of Phytophthora, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. carthami
and Verticillium dahliae. The most serious insect pest that has limited
safflower distribution is the safflower fly (Acanthiophilus helianthi)
which is confined to Africa, Asia and Europe (Mundel et
al., 1992). Aphids are also a major problem in India, Spain and Botswana
(Mundel et al., 1992).
Despite the many uses of safflower, this crop it has remained minor. Therefore, awareness of the usefulness of this neglected and underutilized economically important crop be created to the international community. It is hoped that scientists will develop interest on safflower and develop multidisciplinary research projects to address issues related with the agronomy, ecophysiology, diseases and pests, developmental patterns, morphological ideotypes, increase seed yield through genetic manipulation, product-related research, utilization research, development of pharmaceuticals and clinical trials to elucidate the effectiveness of safflower products, decoctions and concotions in the treatment of various human diseases.
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