Carthamus tinctorius / Saffloer

Saffloer kennen de meeste mensen waarschijnlijk van de olie, maar de bloemblaadjes worden ook als oranje kleurstof gebruikt en de plant zelf is een gemakkelijk te kweken decoratieve snijbloem, waarvan de bloemhoofdjes het ook goed doen in droogboeketten.

Safflower monograph

Scientific Name(s): Carthamus tinctorius L. Family: Asteraceae (daisies)

Common Name(s): Safflower , American saffron , zafran , bastard saffron , false saffron , dyer's saffron , Gami Honghwain


Safflower is native to the Middle East and is widely cultivated throughout Europe and the United States. This annual reaches approximately 1 m in height with a single, smooth, upright stem. Its shiny oval, spiny-edged leaves alternate around the stem. The plant produces profuse yellow to deep red flowers. Seeds are produced in August and are enclosed in a mass of down.1


Although safflower is recognized primarily as a source of healthy edible oil, traditional uses have not focused on the oil. Rather, safflower was originally valued for the yellow and red dyes yielded by its flowers. These dyes have been used for centuries to color cosmetics and fabrics. The use of safflower extract to dye the wrappings of mummies has been reported. 2Safflower had been used as a replacement for saffron, but lost its popularity because of its lack of taste. Traditional uses of safflower tea included inducing sweating and reducing fever. The oil has been employed as a laxative and has been used as a solvent in paints. 2


Safflower oil is characterized by the presence of a high proportion of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that include linoleic (approximately 75%), oleic (13%), palmitic (6%), stearic (3%), and other minor straight-chained fatty acids. 3 , 4 , 5 Alpha and gamma tocopherol content has also been described. 6 Although safflower oil is a rich source of linoleic acid, the activity of delta 6-desaturase is required for its conversion to dihomogammalinolenic acid (DHGA) and arachidonic acid. By contrast, evening primrose oil appears to be a more bioavailable source of fatty acids for the production of DHGA than safflower oil. 7

The seeds contain a lignan glycoside known as tracheloside, 8 and serotonin derivatives and their glucosides have been elucidated in the seed extract. 8 , 9

Safflower Uses and Pharmacology

Safflower oil is used as a control or comparator agent in many clinical trials and experiments evaluating effects against conditions such as dyslipidemia, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and cancer. 5 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 Quality clinical trials specifically investigating the effects of safflower are lacking.

Cardiovascular / Hart en Bloedvaten

When safflower has been used as placebo in some clinical trials, it showed no effect on blood pressure, heart rate, or brachial artery vascular conductance. 11 , 17

Safflower oil consumption has been reported to have variable and/or inconsistent effects on plasma lipids. 7 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 Studies investigating the effects of phospholipids from safflower and soybean showed decreased hepatic lipid levels via decreased liver cholesterol and increased fecal neutral steroid. 23

A decreased expression of adhesion molecules, induced by oxidized low-density lipoprotein, has been observed following consumption in meals rich in safflower. The clinical importance of this effect is unclear. 6 , 24 , 25 Effects of safflower oil on platelet linoleic acid and thromboxane B2 levels were equivocal in small studies. 26

CNS / Zenuwstelsel

There is some suggestion from animal studies that a moderate dietary intake of essential fatty acids may be required to maintain the integrity of CNS function. 27

However, safflower oil-induced n-3 deficiency (high n-6 to n-3 ratio) had a deleterious effect on cognition in mice. 28 In another experiment with mice, a safflower oil-rich diet (ie, depleted n-3 fatty acids) resulted in a decrease in insulin-degrading enzyme associated with an increase in beta-amyloid levels similar to those found in Alzheimer disease. 29 Therefore, a low dietary intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is considered a candidate risk factor for the development of Alzheimer disease, as well as for decreased cognition. 28 , 29Other effects


N-(p-coumaroyl) serotonin is a potent antioxidant compound present in safflower oil and has been shown to exert growth-promoting activity for mouse fibroblasts and human fibroblasts in vitro. Antioxidant activity and inhibitory effect on proinflammatory cytokine production from human monocytes were observed at similar doses. 9Estrogen-related osteoporosis / Beenderontkalking in de overgang

Safflower seed extract showed a protective effect in experiments. 8

Pruritis in renal disease

Safflower oil supplementation resulted in clinically unimportant reductions in symptoms of pruritus. 30


Few trials have used safflower oil as the agent under investigation.

Nine capsules of safflower oil per day as placebo were used to provide 80 calories/day and contained alpha-linoleic acid 800 mg, oleic acid 160 mg, and palmitic acid 100 mg per capsule. 11 Another trial used 10 g of safflower oil per day as placebo. 17

Transcutaneous safflower oil 3 mL 4 times a day has been administered by massage to neonates. Absorption was demonstrated because the lipid profile of the neonates altered with this method of administration. 22


Information is limited. Abortifacient and emmenagogue effects have been suggested. 31 , 32


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Case reports of immunoglobulin E-mediated allergy (eg, rhinitis, urticaria, asthma) to the flowers exist. 33 Trials using safflower oil as the control agent report few adverse reactions.


Research reveals little toxicologic information. Foods are often cooked in safflower oil, and the oil is commonly used as a placebo in clinical trials. A study to determine the safety of safflower oil showed no adverse reactions on liver enzymes and renal parameters (uric acid, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine) at 10 g of oil per day. 17


1. Carthamus tinctorius . USDA, NRCS. 2008. The PLANTS Database ( , 8 September 2008). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

2. Dobelis, IN, ed. Magic and Medicine of Plants . Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association; 1986.

3. Kwon JS, Snook JT, Wardlaw GM, Hwang DH. Effects of diets high in saturated fatty acids, canola oil, or safflower oil on platelet function, thromboxane B2 formation, and fatty acid composition of platelet phospholipids. Am J Clin Nutr . 1991;54(2):351-358.

4. Windolz M, ed. The Merck Index . 10th ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck & Co; 1983.

5. Paschos GK, Magkos F, Panagiotakos DB, Votteas V, Zampelas A. Dietary supplementation with flaxseed oil lowers blood pressure in dyslipidaemic patients. Eur J Clin Nutr . 2007;61(10):1201-1206.

6. Masterjohn C. The anti-inflammatory properties of safflower oil and coconut oil may be mediated by their respective concentrations of vitamin E. J Am Coll Cardiol . 2007;49(17):1825-1826.

7. Abraham RD, Riemersma RA, Elton RA, Macintyre C, Oliver MF. Effects of safflower oil and evening primrose oil in men with a low dihomo-gamma-linolenic level. Atherosclerosis . 1990;81(3):199-208.

8. Kim KW, Suh SJ, Lee TK, et al. Effect of safflower seeds supplementation on stimulation of the proliferation, differentiation and mineralization of osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells. J Ethnopharmacol . 2008;115(1):42-49.

9. Takii T, Hayashi M, Hiroma H, et al. Serotonin derivative, N-(p-Coumaroyl) serotonin, isolated from safflower ( Carthamus tinctorius L.) oil cake augments the proliferation of normal human and mouse fibroblasts in synergy with basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) or epidermal growth factor (EGF). J Biochem . 1999;125(5):910-915.

10. Tsuzuki T, Igarashi M, Miyazawa T. Conjugated eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) inhibits transplanted tumor growth via membrane lipid peroxidation in nude mice. J Nutr . 2004;134(5):1162-1166.

11. Walser B, Giordano RM, Stebbins CL. Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augments brachial artery dilation and blood flow during forearm contraction. Eur J Appl Physiol . 2006;97(3):347-354.

12. Bloomer RJ, Fry A, Schilling B, Chiu L, Hori N, Weiss L. Astaxanthin supplementation does not attenuate muscle injury following eccentric exercise in resistance-trained men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab . 2005;15(4):401-412.

13. Barre DE, Mizier-Barre KA, Griscti O, Hafez K. High dose flaxseed oil supplementation may affect fasting blood serum glucose management in human type 2 diabetics. J Oleo Sci . 2008;57(5):269-273.

14. Burton-Freeman B, Davis PA, Schneeman BO. Interaction of fat availability and sex on postprandial satiety and cholecystokinin after mixed-food meals. Am J Clin Nutr . 2004;80(5):1207-1214.

15. Close RN, Schoeller DA, Watras AC, Nora EH. Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation alters the 6-mo change in fat oxidation during sleep. Am J Clin Nutr . 2007;86(3):797-804.

16. Steck SE, Chalecki AM, Miller P, et al. Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation for twelve weeks increases lean body mass in obese humans. J Nutr . 2007;137(5):1188-1193.

17. Iwata T, Kamegai T, Yamauchi-Sato Y, et al. Safety of dietary conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in a 12-weeks trial in healthy overweight Japanese male volunteers. J Oleo Sci . 2007;56(10):517-525.

18. Cox C, Sutherland W, Mann J, de Jong S, Chisholm A, Skeaff M. Effects of dietary coconut oil, butter and safflower oil on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and lathosterol levels. Eur J Clin Nutr . 1998;52(9):650-654.

19. Wardlaw GM, Snook JT, Lin MC, Puangco MA, Kwon JS. Serum lipid and apolipoprotein concentrations in healthy men on diets enriched in either canola oil or safflower oil. Am J Clin Nutr . 1991;54(1):104-110.

20. Williams MJA, Sutherland WH, McCormick MP, Yeoman D, de Jong SA, Walker RJ. Normal endothelial function after meals rich in olive or safflower oil previously used for deep frying. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis . 2001;11:147-152.

21. Jackson KG, Wolstencroft EJ, Bateman PA, Yaqoob P, Williams CM. Greater enrichment of triacylglycerol-rich lipoproteins with apolipoproteins E and C-III after meals rich in saturated fatty acids than after meals rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr . 2005;81(1):25-34.

22. Solanki K, Matnani M, Kale M, et al. Transcutaneous absorption of topically massaged oil in neonates. Indian Pediatr . 2005;42(10):998-1005.

23. Cohn JS, Wat E, Kamili A, Tandy S. Dietary phospholipids, hepatic lipid metabolism and cardiovascular disease. Curr Opin Lipidol . 2008;19(3):257-262.

24. Rallidis LS, Paschos G, Papaioannou ML, et al. The effect of diet enriched with alpha-linolenic acid on soluble cellular adhesion molecules in dyslipidaemic patients. Atherosclerosis . 2004;174(1):127-132.

25. Nicholls SJ, Lundman P, Harmer JA, et al. Consumption of saturated fat impairs the anti-inflammatory properties of high-density lipoproteins and endothelial function. J Am Coll Cardiol . 2006;48(4):715-720.

26. Herbel BK, McGuire MK, McGuire MA, Shultz TD. Safflower oil consumption does not increase plasma conjugated linoleic acid concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr . 1998;67(2):332-337.

27. Okuyama H. Minimum requirements of n-3 and n-6 essential fatty acids for the function of the central nervous system and for the prevention of chronic disease. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med . 1992;200(2):174-176.

28. Calon F, Lim GP, Morihara T, et al. Dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid depletion activates caspases and decreases NMDA receptors in the brain of a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Eur J Neurosci . 2005;22(3):617-626.

29. Zhao L, Teter B, Morihara T, et al. Insulin-degrading enzyme as a downstream target of insulin receptor signaling cascade: implications for Alzheimer's disease intervention. J Neurosci . 2004;24(49):11120-11126.

30. Begum R, Belury MA, Burgess JR, Peck LW. Supplementation with n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids: effects on lipoxygenase activity and clinical symptoms of pruritus in hemodialysis patients. J Ren Nutr . 2004;14(4):233-241.

31. Brinker FJ. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions . 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998.

32. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy? Phytomedicine . 2002;9(4):352-354.

33. Compes E, Bartolomé B, Fernández-Nieto M, Sastre J, Cuesta J. Occupational asthma from dried flowers of Carthamus tinctorious (safflower) and Achillea millefolium (yarrow). Allergy . 2006;61(10):1239-12340.