Flowers of Safflower, Hong Hua (Chinese) - Carthamus Tinctorius (Asteraceae)

Medicinal Use of Safflower, Hong Hua (Chinese) – Carthamus Tinctorius (Asteraceae)


Annual herb growing to 3 ft (90 cm). Has long spiny leaves with 6 oblong-oval leaflets, and groups of yellow flowers arising from the leaf axils.

Habitat & Cultivation

Thought to be native to Iran and northwestern India, this herb is also found in North America and the Far East. It grows in open areas and is gathered in summer.

Parts Used

Flowers, seeds, seed oil.


Safflower contains lignans, polysaccharides and a volatile oil. The seeds contain a fixed oil, up to 80% linoleic acid.

History & Folklore

In 19th century North American herbal medicine, safflower was used to induce sweating, to promote the onset of a menstrual period and as a treatment for measles. Safflower flowers are falsely sold as saffron (Crocus sativus).

Medicinal Actions & Uses

In Chinese herbal medicine, the flowers are given to stimulate menstruation and to relieve abdominal pain. The flowers are also used to cleanse and heal wounds and sores and to treat measles. In the Anglo-American herbal tradition, the flowers are given as a treatment for fever and skin rashes. The unpurified seed oil is purgative.


Chinese research indicates that safflower flowers can reduce coronary artery disease, and lower cholesterol levels. Safflower contains a polysaccharide that has been shown to stimulate immune function in mice. Safflower oil also lowers cholesterol levels.


Do not take the flowers or seeds during pregnancy (seed oil is safe).