Safflower seeds for planting

Learn how to grow safflower in this informative article. Growing safflower requires only minimal maintenance and care.

USDA Zones — 5-10

Difficulty — Easy

Other Names — Alazor, American Saffron, Bastard Saffron, Benibana, Benibana Oil, Benibana Flower, Cártamo, Carthame, Dyer’s Saffron, Fake Saffron, False Saffron, Safranon, Zaffer, Zafran, Sallflower and Chimichanga.

Safflower Growing Information

Belonging to the family Asteraceae, the safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is an annual plant. Ideal for dry gardens, it has a bushy growing habit and reaches 0.80 to 1 m high. It has sturdy stems and leathery and slightly prickly leaves. Once planted, safflower first forms a rosette of leaves resembling a large dandelion.

Each stem is adorned with a big flower head composed of many florets, color can vary from light yellow to dark orange. These flowers attract bees and various other beneficial insects and be used as cut flowers. Safflower seeds can be eaten, they are rich in essential fatty acids. Other parts of this plant are also edible: Young and tender shoots are served in salads.

Safflower has a long taproot that can go down to 2 meters deep, which makes it able to pick up the water and other essential nutrients from the depth of soil. It is also called “false saffron” because of its orange flowers that produce a coloration similar to saffron. Once dried and powdered, they may be substituted for real saffron but without having the exceptional aroma.

How to Grow Safflower

Propagation and Planting Safflower

For growing safflower, propagate it from seeds. It requires direct seeding, as the plant doesn’t transplant well because of long taproot. The optimum seed germination temperature is around 60 – 70 F (15-20 C).

Till the soil well and remove the stones and other debris. Add compost or aged manure if the soil is poor. Sow the seeds in rows, with a spacing of 20 cm in the row and 30 cm between rows, so that each plant will have room to grow, this will also limit the spreading of diseases between the plants. Bury each seed 2 to 3 cm deep.

Tamp the soil slightly and water slowly with a watering can taking care not to wash away the seeds. Keep the soil moist during germination. Seedlings will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks.

Requirements for Growing Safflower


Safflower needs warm and dry location to grow. Plant it on the sunniest location of your garden facing south or west. You can also grow it on sloping areas.


Soil must be deep, well drained and loamy. Amend your soil before planting if it is heavy and clay rich. If your soil is sandy, mix peat moss and compost to it. Safflower has less requirements regarding the pH, it prefers neutral soil.


Economical watering is required for growing safflower as it tends to develop rot and fungal diseases due to excess watering. When you water also take care not to wet the foliage as it can promote diseases.

Safflower Plant Care


When plants are young, you need to weed regularly to remove competitive weeds.


It needs high in nitrogen fertilizer. However, it is best to get your soil tested before applying fertilizer. To learn more on fertilizing safflower read this.

Pests and Diseases

Its main problem is moisture that leads the plant to root rot and slow growth. Main diseases and pests are safflower rust, bacterial belight and aphids, leaf eating caterpillar and safflower fly.


Harvest safflower seeds when the plants begin to turn brown. Cut the seed heads and shake them in a bag or jar or open them using hand. Store them in a airtight container in cool and dry place.

Safflower petals are edible and are used to add color to food. Harvest the safflower petals when the flowers are fully open. Either remove the whole flower or pick off the petals.

Safflower Seed For Birds

Safflower seed is a small, white conical seed, similar to black-oil sunflower seed, that is high in protein and fat.

If squirrels, pigeons, blackbirds, doves and grackles crowd your feeder and chase away the birds you want to see, you may want to try the Safflower Seed Solution.

Blackbirds, grackles and squirrels typically find the seed unsatisfying and bitter.

We say typically, but not always. But it wouldn’t hurt to try, especially as an alternative to regular sunflower seeds.

You can use it in any sunflower seed feeder or scatter it on the ground to attract birds that normally don’t like to perch on feeders such as cardinals.

Chickadees, Juncos, Titmice, and Nuthatches Feeding On A Safflower Seed Cylinder

You can make your own safflower seed cylinders at home by simply mixing bird seed with gelatin. Here is a bird seed cylinder recipe on youtube.

Types of Birds Attracted to Safflower

  • Cardinals
  • Chickadees
  • Jays
  • Grosbeaks
  • House Finches
  • Purple Finches
  • White-breasted Nuthatches
  • Red-bellied Woodpeckers
  • Titmice

Feeding Birds Safflower Seeds

If you want to switch to feeding your backyard birds exclusively safflower seeds to exclude squirrels, blackbirds, and other pest birds, do so gradually.

If your birds are used to feeding on a wild bird seed mix or black oil sunflower seeds and you suddenly provide them with only safflower seeds, they may revolt. Well, not really, but they may not accept the seed as readily and start visiting other feeders in the neighborhood instead of yours.

Gradually add safflower seed to what you are currently feeding your birds so they can get used to it and accept the change.

Finches Feeding on Safflower Seed at No/No (No Plastic/No Wood) Bird Feeder

You can offer safflower seeds in hopper, tube, or platform feeders. Many backyard birders like using the wire mesh style feeders (as in the video below) that are for sunflower seeds too.

King Tut Liked Safflower Too

Some interesting facts about safflower seed is that it is a very old crop that dates back to King Tut where evidence of safflower was found in his tomb.

Other names for Safflower include Sallflower, Beni, Benibana, Chimichanga, American Saffron, Alazor, Fake Saffron, Zaffer, Zafran or by its scientific name, Carthamus tinctorius.

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Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse photos courtesy of ptgbirdlover on Flickr

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Safflower Information – How To Grow Safflower Plants In The Garden

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is predominantly grown for its oils which are not only heart healthy and used in foods, but also in a variety of other products. Safflower’s growing requirements are uniquely suited for arid regions. Farmers can often be found growing safflower between crops of winter wheat. The following article contains safflower information on how to grow and care for safflower plants.

Safflower Information

Safflower has an extremely long taproot which enables it to reach deep into the soil to retrieve water. This makes safflower a perfect crop for arid farming areas. Of course, this deep rooting for water uptake does deplete the available water in the soil, so sometimes the area will need to lay fallow for up to 6 years to replenish the water levels after growing safflower.

Safflower also leaves very little crop residue, which leaves fields open to erosion and is susceptible to several diseases. That said, the demand from our heart healthy nation is such that the price garnered is well worth growing safflower as a cash crop.

The ideal growing requirements for safflower are well-drained soils with good water retention, but safflower isn’t picky and will grow in coarse soil with inadequate irrigation or rain. It doesn’t like wet feet, however.

Safflower is seeded in early to late spring. Plant seeds ½ inch deep in rows that are 6-12 inches (15-30 cm.) apart in a prepared firm bed. Germination takes place in about one to two weeks. Harvesting occurs about 20 weeks from planting.

Safflower Care

Safflower usually does not need additional fertilization at least in the first year of growing because the long taproot is able to reach and extract nutrients. Sometimes a supplemental nitrogen rich fertilizer will be used.

As mentioned, safflower is drought tolerant so the plant does not need much in the way of supplemental water.

Keep the safflower growing area free from weeds that compete for water and nutrients. Monitor and control for pest infestation, especially in the early part of the growing season when they can decimate a crop.

Disease is most common during the rainy season when fungal diseases may be a problem. Many of these diseases can be managed through the use of disease resistant seeds.

A wonderful plant for the flowerbed, Safflower, is a thistle that is grown commercially for the production of oil and birdseed. It also makes a wonder cutflower plant.
Dried flowers are used as a substitute for saffron. An annual plant that can handle a lot of heat in the garden, it grows about 32 inches tall and will bloom in 10 weeks from seed.
The orange flowers of safflower sometimes serve as a substitute for saffron, since they give a color to food. They are frequently sold as saffron to tourists in Hungary or Northern Africa ( and probably many other parts of the world ). Their value as spice is nearly nil, but their staining capability justifies usage in the kitchen.
Dried safflower flowers are used in a lot of recipes where they help to improve the color of broths, soups and stews, without being expected to contribute any flavor. However, many cooks are unaware between the difference between safflower and saffron, and consider the former a cheaper grade of the latter, with saffron being very expensive in some regions.

Safflower is a versatile herb that has many names including Alazor, American Saffron, Benibana, and Chimichanga. It is famous for its safflower oil that is expensive and used to cure a lot of health problems including obesity and overweight. Learning how to grow Safflower is easy. All you need to do is to follow the instructions provided in this article.

But before learning how to grow safflower, there is a few information you need to know about this plant first. It is an annual plant that grows best in dry gardens. It can grow up to 1 meter tall. It is also has a sturdy stem that is difficult to break.

It is also a healthy herb. Its seeds are edible and they are rich in fatty acids that is why its flowers are popular for bees. It is also used for dying fabric and edible garnish. If you are looking forward to learning how to grow safflower, just follow the below guide.

1. Soil

Safflower can’t be grown in any soil, it needs a deep, fertile well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy and rich in clay, you will need to amend it. It also does not like sandy soil, it is preferable that you add moss and compost to your soil if it is sandy. In brief, soil cultivation is necessary to grow safflower.

2. Location

Choosing the right spot for growing safflower is easy. There is only one rule. Always opt for the sunniest spot in your garden. This herb likes dry warm locations. You should keep in mind that any location you choose for this herb is permanent. You can’t transplant safflower.

3. Planting

Safflower is one of the plants that require direct seedings. This plant does not like transplanting so you will have to propagate it from seeds. The temperature of the soil needs to be between 60-70F for the seeds to germinate.

Before sowing the seeds, make sure that you cultivate the soil well. You should also remove any stones or derbis around the location you chose. If you think you have a poor-quality soil, you could improve it by adding manure or compost.

It is advisable that you keep a space 30 cm in all directions between each seed. This technique will later prevent your plants from spreading diseases to each other. Now that everything is set, sow the seeds 2 to 3 cm deep.

After sowing the seeds, cover them with soil and water them slowly and carefully. Don’t flood them with water as it may wash the seeds away. During the first 3 to 4 weeks, make sure you keep the soil moist, it will help the seeds to germinate.

4. watering

When watering safflower, you need to be careful not to over water it. Soggy water will cause fungal diseases and rotten its roots. It is advisable not to water from above because wetting the foliage promotes diseases.

5. Fertilizing

Safflower needs a high nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer. However, it is highly recommended that you test your soil before applying the fertilizer. Don’t start fertilizing until your soil starts to show low levels of nitrogen.

6. Pests and diseases

As we mentioned above, the biggest danger to safflower is moisture. Moisture rotten the roots of the plants which will eventually hinder its growth if not killing it. Therefore, again, you should water your herb only when it needs to. Safflower could also face many harmful diseases and pets including safflower rust, bacterial blight, and aphids, leaf-eating caterpillar and safflower fly.

7. Harvesting

You will know when to harvest this herb from its color. When this plant becomes brown, it means that it is mature enough to be harvested. Harvesting safflower is easy, you will only need to cut the seed heads and shake them into a bag or a container. You should store them in an airtight area. They don’t like humidity, therefore, they require a cool place.

You can also eat safflower petals. They are mainly and widely used in adding color to food. You can harvest safflower petals when you can see that the flowers are open. You could either cut the whole flower or just remove the petals. Either way, try not to break the stem.

These are the easiest and the most effective steps to grow safflower. Just follow these steps and you will grow safflower successfully. It is not difficult to grow it and it is a highly recommended plant because of its many medical and healthy uses.

If you wish to grow healthy herbs, perhaps you should consider growing betel leaf. For further choices, check out these amazing herbs that can be easily grown.

Enjoying growing your herbs and if you ever needed any advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us.



Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is a broadleaf, annual oilseed crop primarily adapted to grow in the western Great Plains. In the same family as sunflower, it is a thistle-like plant with a strong central branch stem and a varying number of branches. Each branch usually has one to five flower heads and each of those heads contains 15 to 20 seeds. Safflower has a taproot system that can penetrate to depths of eight to ten feet, making it more tolerant to drought than small grains.

Value-added Products

Traditionally, safflower was grown for the flowers that were used in making red and yellow dyes for clothing and food preparation. Today, safflower provides three main products: oil, meal, and birdseed. Prior to the 1960s in the United States, the oil was used mostly as a base for superior quality paints. It is still used in paints and varnishes because of its non-yellowing characteristic. More recently it has also been used in infant formulas, cosmetics, and salad and cooking oils. Safflower meal is about 24 percent protein and high in fiber and is used as a protein supplement for livestock and poultry feed. Whole safflower seeds are used in the birdseed industry.

Nutritional Value

Two types of safflower oil with corresponding types of safflower varieties exist: those high in monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic) and those high in polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic). The safflower varieties that are high in oleic oil are used as a heat stable cooking oil to fry such food items as french fries, chips and other snack items and are also used in cosmetics, food coatings, and infant food formulations. The oil in linoleic safflower contains nearly 75 percent linoleic acid and is used primarily for edible oil products such as salad oils and soft margarines.
There is a considerable health food market for safflower oil. High-oleic safflower oil is lower in saturates and higher in monounsaturates than olive oil and is beneficial in preventing coronary artery disease. Also, monounsaturates such as oleic safflower oil tend to lower blood levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) without affecting HDL (“good” cholesterol). Polyunsaturated fats, such as linoleic acids, are associated with lowering blood cholesterol. Both types of oil are considered “high-quality” edible oil, and public awareness about this health topic has made safflower an important crop for vegetable oil.


U.S. safflower production in 2016 totaled 220 million pounds. Yield increased from 2015, reaching 1,425 pounds per acre in 2016. However, acreage decreased to 161,000 acres. (NASS 2017)
Safflower gives options to farmers in a dryland crop rotation with respect to weed and disease control and in using soil moisture available to its deep taproot. It is most often grown in rotation with small grains or on fallow. In areas of wheat production, safflower is also a feasible option because it uses the same equipment as wheat. The crop usually needs 110 to 140 days to mature.

Safflower production is contracted in the spring with a birdseed or oil company for fall delivery. The typical contracts are for 34 percent oilseed, with discounts and premiums adjusting the base price. Production contracts are recommended to reduce risk.

More than 60 countries grow safflower, but over half is produced in India, mainly for the domestic vegetable oil market. Most of the remaining production occurs in the United States, Mexico, Ethiopia, Argentina and Australia.


The average price of safflower in 2016 was $4.84 per pound. As a result, the value of the 2016 crop totaled more than $45 million. (NASS 2017)

Large variations in price can be attributed to the relatively few acres under production each year. Changes in planted acres and average yields can dramatically affect the price.


  • Crop Production Annual Summary, National Ag Statistical Service (NASS), USDA.
  • Crop Values Annual Summary, NASS, USDA.
  • Global Ag Trade System, Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.
  • Growing Safflower in Nebraska, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Service – This guide provides information on the production and marketing of safflower.
  • New Safflower Lines Survive Winters, Ag Research Service (ARS), USDA, 2008.
  • Oil Crops Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
  • Oil Crops Yearbook, ERS, USDA – Examines supply, use, prices and trade for oil crops, including supply and demand prospects in major importing and exporting countries.
  • Safflower, Alternative Field Crops Manual, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service and University of Minnesota Extension Service, 1992.
  • Safflower, The New American Farmer, SARE, NIFA, USDA.
  • Safflower, Oregon State University Extension Service, 2002.
  • Safflower, WebMD – Find medical information for safflower including its uses, effectiveness, side effects and safety and interactions.
  • Sunflower Genetic Resources Homepage sponsored by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) and the International Safflower Germplasm Advisory Committee.
  • Safflower Production, North Dakota State University, 2007.
  • Safflower Production on the Canadian Prairies, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2004.

Links checked August 2018.

Herb to Know: Safflower

Uses For Safflower

Safflower is grown today mainly for its seed oil, which is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids; a diet high in polyunsaturates has been found to lower total blood cholesterol. The oil is also used in margarines and salad oils, as well as in the manufacture of paints, varnishes, and soaps.

The powdered dried flowers have been mixed with talcum powder to make rouge, and they have been used to add reddish color to food and liqueurs. The Chinese dyed silk with safflower, and the Egyptians produced brilliant red linen cloth from the plant. Textiles found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen are believed to have been dyed with safflower.

Two dyes for fibers can be extracted from a batch of flowers. A yellow dyebath is obtained by soaking the flowers in a mild vinegar solution for a few hours or overnight. Using alum as a mordant also produces yellow. To get a red, the flowers from the yellow dyebath are rinsed and soaked again for a few hours in an alkaline solution of ammonia or washing soda, then vinegar is added to neutralize the dyebath and turn it bright red. More detailed instructions can be found in A Weaver’s Garden, by Rita Buchanan (Interweave Press, 1987).

Buchanan notes that the red dye once colored cloth tapes used to tie legal documents together: the original “red tape”. If you already have enough red tape in your life, you can use your safflower dyes to color silk or cotton fabrics pretty shades of red, orange, or yellow. Unfortunately, the dyes will fade in time.

The leaves and young shoots may be eaten as a potherb. The seeds are fried and made into chutney or may be used as a rennet substitute to curdle milk. The flowers are long-lasting in fresh arrangements or easy to dry for use in dried arrangements or other crafts.

Except for the health benefits of its seed oil, safflower isn’t known for its medicinal qualities these days. In the past, a tea made from the flowers was given to reduce fevers by inducing sweating, especially in childhood diseases such as measles. A mixture of the seed juice and chicken stock or water was given to relieve constipation and respiratory problems. Safflower also has been used to treat ear and menstrual disorders and, externally, to soothe bruises, wounds, and painful or paralyzed joints. Scientists confirm its use in lowering fever but question its effectiveness as a laxative.

Growing Safflower

Safflower is easy to grow. Select a site in full sun. Safflower will grow in just about any kind of soil but may get root rot if drainage is poor. It is quite drought resistant. Sow seeds outdoors in early to midspring as plants don’t transplant well. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Thin seedlings to 8 inches apart. The plants grow quickly and will bloom in about twelve weeks from seed.

Pick flowers for drying before they are completely open or, for contrast, before they have begun to open at all. Because the stems are stiff, you can dry them upright if you like. If you plan to try dyeing with the flowers, harvest petals daily for several weeks, spreading them out to dry on newspaper or paper towels and then saving the loose dried petals until you have enough for a dyebath. You will need an amount of petals about equal in weight to the fabric you’re planning to dye.


Seed Surces

Description: This herbaceous plant is a summer annual (in Illinois) that forms a low rosette during the spring, but by summer it bolts to become 1-4′ tall. A typical plant is unbranched below and branched above with ascending lateral stems. The stems are light green to light yellowish tan, terete, glabrous, and stiff. Alternate leaves occur at intervals along these stems. These leaves are 2-6″ long, ½-2″ across, and stiff; they are lanceolate, lanceolate-oblong, ovate, or ovate-oblong in shape. The leaf bases are sessile or they clasp the stems. Leaf margins are mostly smooth (entire) with scattered yellow spines, although lower leaf margins are sometimes spineless and slightly dentate (although in some uncommon cultivars, all leaves may be spineless). Both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves are dark green and glabrous; minute pubescence may occur along the lower surfaces of the central leaf veins.
Each upper stem terminates in 1-5 flowerheads. The flowerheads of each branch are usually clustered together on short peduncles. Each flowerhead is ¾-1½” across (excluding the outer phyllaries), consisting of 20-100 disk florets. These florets are ¾-1″ in length, although their bases are hidden from view. The corollas of these florets are yellow to red (rarely white), narrowly cylindrical below, and 5-lobed above; these lobes are linear in shape and spreading. The styles are strongly exerted from the corollas. Around the base of the flowerhead, there are several outer phyllaries (floral bracts) up to 1½” long that are widely spreading and stiff; they are elliptic or lanceolate in shape, while their margins are smooth (entire) with scattered yellow spines. The surfaces of these outer bracts are dark green and glabrous. The inner phyllaries are mostly erect and appressed together; they are light green, ovate or lanceolate in shape, and covered with appressed hairs. The margins of the inner phyllaries are mostly smooth (entire) and ciliate, although their tips are spiny. However, in some uncommon cultivars, both outer and inner phyllaries are spineless. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring into the fall (in Illinois), lasting about 1-3 months. Afterwards, fertile florets are replaced by achenes. The achenes are 6-8 mm. long, white or light brown, oblanceoloid in shape, bluntly 4-angled, and often longitudinally striped. Usually the apices of these achenes lack tufts of hair, although in some uncommon cultivars short stiff bristles are present. The root system consists of a stout taproot up to 3-4′ long and some lateral roots. This plant reproduces by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: Safflower adapts to full sun, mesic to dry conditions, and various kinds of soil, including those that contain loam, sandy loam, or clay-loam. It prefers cool to warm temperatures while in the rosette stage, and warm to hot temperatures after it bolts (a warm-temperate zone with long summer days, a long growing season, and adequate rainfall prior to the blooming period). In areas with high humidity or cool weather during the summer, this plant is vulnerable to a variety of fungal disease organisms. Because of the deep taproot, resistance to heat and drought is excellent.
Range & Habitat: The non-native Safflower uncommonly naturalizes in Illinois, occurring in Champaign County (see Distribution Map). However, the presence of this species within the state is probably under-reported. Because of its preference for areas with relatively low humidity, Safflower is cultivated primarily in the western half of the United States, where it more frequently naturalizes. In the eastern half of the United States (including Illinois), naturalized plants are typically found around bird feeders as Safflower is sometimes used as a source of bird seed. Naturalized plants can occur after birds inadvertently drop the seeds, or spill the seeds from a bird feeder. As a result, typically habitats in Illinois are unmowed areas around bird feeders, including vegetable gardens, flowerbeds, open spaces near shrubbery, and edges of yards. However, these naturalized plants rarely persist from one year to the next. Safflower was introduced into the United States during the early 20th century as an agricultural crop (as a source of vegetable oil and a dye for clothing or food). This plant is probably native to the eastern Mediterranean region and parts of southern and central Asia, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Faunal Associations: Little specific information is available for the floral-faunal relationships of Safflower in North America. The flowers are cross-pollinated by bumblebees, honeybees, other long-tongued bees, and probably other insects with long mouth parts (e.g., butterflies & skippers). However, in the absence of cross-pollination, the flowers are self-fertile. Seed bugs (Lygus), aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, wireworms, and the larvae of some moths are reported to feed destructively on Safflower. Among vertebrate animals, some songbirds (e.g., Cardinals) and probably upland gamebrids feed on the seeds, which are sometimes used as a source of food in bird feeders. Prior to the blooming period, the foliage of Safflower is reportedly edible to sheep and, to a lesser extent, cattle. The suitability of the foliage as a source of forage depends in part on its level of spininess; this varies with different cultivars.
Photographic Location: A mulched bed near some shrubbery at the Anita Purves Nature Center in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: Safflower is grown primarily as an agricultural crop in the western half of the United States and other parts of the world. The flowerheads are a source of red and yellow dyes for clothing and food (now largely replaced by synthetic dyes), while vegetable oil is derived from its seeds. Safflower oil is high in oleic and linoleic fatty acids, and it is used as a source for cooking oil, salad oil, industrial oil, biodiesel fuel, margarine, soap, cosmetics, oil-based paints, and varnishes. Roasted or fried hulled seeds are edible to humans, while unhulled raw seeds are used as a source of food for birds. Young foliage and meal from processed seeds are edible to livestock (e.g., cattle & sheep). The primary advantage of Safflower over other agricultural crops is its ability to adapt to hot dry climates. Because of the spines on its foliage and floral bracts, Safflower resembles thistles (Cirsium spp., Carduus spp.), but the corollas of its flowerheads are yellow to red, rather than pink or purple. Unlike thistles, the achenes of Safflower lack tufts of hair at their apices, except for some uncommon cultivars that have achenes with short bristles. In addition, the widely spreading and spiny floral bracts of Safflower have a distinctive appearance.

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