Safflower – false Saffron

dreamstime_l_41188740Carthamus tinctorius

I had never heard of this herb until I saw it in a florist’s shop.

The cheerful beautiful orange, thistle-like flowers stood out. I had discovered Safflower … a herb with an amazing history and huge potential!

In fact, I had met it before ….. Some had popped up in my garden last summer under my bird feeder! As its leaves are prickly, I thought they were thistles and promptly weeded them out ….. I have since found that Safflower seeds are frequently used components of bird seed mixes.

Traditionally, for the last 2000 years Safflower was grown in Mediterranean countries for both its seeds and its flower petals. The orange or Safflower - false saffronred petals were used for colouring and flavouring foods, in medicines, and making red (carthamin) and yellow dyes. However, for the last fifty years or so, the plant has been cultivated mainly for the vegetable oil extracted from its seeds which is lower in saturated fatty acids than olive oil.

Safflower flowers are occasionally used in cooking as a cheaper substitute for saffron, hence its name “False Saffron”. Saffron is  the most expensive spice you can buy, used in cooking for its colour and powerful taste. However, Safflower petals provide the colour but not the flavour!

Safflower seedsIf you want to grow Safflower in the UK you need to realise that it most definitely likes well drained soils and dies at the first sign of frost! It can be grown easily from seed.  The seed is obtainable from Halcyon Plants which you can find online at

The seeds can be planted in March/April in seed trays. They germinate when temperatures rises to 16 – 18C.  When the seedlings are large enough they should be pricked off into larger pots and gradually    hardened off in the garden before planting out in May after all risk of frost has passed.

Certainly your safflower seed heads will be a hit with your local birds if you leave them to ripen!

Other names include

¨ Sallflower,

¨ Beni,

¨ False Saffron,

¨ Chimichanga,

¨ Hong Hua.