Herbs & Botanicals
Safflower (hong hua)
What is safflower? What is it used for?
Safflower is a popular component of traditional Chinese medicine. Safflowers consist of long, tubular stems, with flowers that are orange, red or yellow in appearance. In China, safflowers are grown in the Henan, Hubei, Sichuan and Zhejiang provinces. The flowers are picked from the plant in the summer, after the petals turn bright red, and are dried in the shade for herbal medicine.
Safflower contains several fatty acids, including linoleic acid and linolenic acid. In traditional Chinese medicine, safflower is considered pungent and warm, and is associated with the Heart and Liver meridians. Its functions are to invigorate the blood and release stagnation, to promote circulation, and to promote menstruation. Modern uses for safflower include abdominal pain and swelling, postpartum pain, dysmenorrheal and amenorrhea. It is often used with peach seed, angelica root and red peony as part a larger formula.
Safflower oil is sometimes used to treat arteriosclerosis. In addition, it is often employed as a cooking oil. In industry, safflower flowers are used to color cosmetics and dyes, while safflower seed oil is used as a paint solvent.
How much safflower should I take?
The typical dosage of safflower is between 3 and 10 grams, depending on the condition being treated. Some practitioners also recommend safflower oil, but in much smaller doses (less than 1 gram).
What forms of safflower are available?
Whole or cut dried safflower petals can be found at most herbal shops and Asian markets. Safflower is also available as a powder or concentrated extract.
What can happen if I take too much safflower? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
Safflower should always be taken with caution. The American Herbal Products Association has given safflower both a class 2B rating (meaning it should not be used during pregnancy) and a 2D rating (indicating that it should not be used by patients with hemorrhagic disease or peptic ulcers). Safflower may also prolong the coagulation time of blood, so it should be used with caution by people on blood thinners. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking safflower or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
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- Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 652-653.
- Martinez Flores H, Cruz Mondragon C, Larios Saldana A. Reduction of crude fiber content in safflower meal (carthamus tinctorium L) and its potential use in human food. Arch Latinoam Nutr December 1996;284:295-8.
- McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products AssociationŐs Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 24.
- Zhang HL, Nagatsu A, Watanabe T, et al. Antioxidative compounds isolated from safflower (carthamus tinctorius L) oil cake. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) December 1997;45:1910-4.