The scientists' search for suitable vegetable oil to replace animal fats in human diets with a view to reduce the cholesterol levels in the system and hence minimize the hazards of heart diseases associated with animal fat, led them to examine the appropriateness of many vegetable oils. This was owing to the discovery by the scientists that the presence of polyunsaturated fats or plant oils in the diet helped in reducing the intensity of cholesterol in the system. During this research, scientists found that the oil extracted from safflower possessed maximum concentration of polyunsaturates and this has led to the intensive cultivation of the plant primarily for its oil content.
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Interestingly, this was not the situation before, as safflower was formerly valued more for the red and yellow dyes obtained from its flowers and not for the oil extracted from its seeds. Originally, for hundreds of years, the red dye material obtained from the safflower flowers was used as a reddish makeup for cheeks and also to tint silks. Safflower's use in textile dying dates back to ancient times and it has recently been discovered that the materials used to wrap the mummies in ancient times were also dyed with the safflower flower ingredients. It is also said that around the 1700s, the Portuguese added the yellow safflower flowers to their foods as a replacement for the saffron. Since the safflower does not possess the true essence of saffron, it has been often nicknamed as 'false saffron' and 'bastard saffron'.
The remedial value of safflower is very restricted. While it is extremely effective in lowering the cholesterol levels in the system, the herb has also been found to be useful in treating fevers. In addition, extracts from the safflower are often used as a laxative and help in bowel movements.
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Flowers, seeds, seed oil.
Chinese herbal medicine practitioners recommend the safflower flowers to encourage menstruation and also treat abdominal pains. In addition, the safflower flowers are also said to be effective in cleaning and healing open wounds and bruises. They are also used as a remedy for measles. On the other hand, Anglo-American herbalists use the flowers to treat fevers and different types of skin disorders, including rashes. At the same time, the raw oil extracted from the safflower seeds is said to function as an excellent purgative.
As mentioned earlier, ancient people cultivated the safflower plant for its flowers that were used as textile dyes as well as in food preparation. However, currently, the plant provides oil from the seeds, meals for animals, and food for caged birds as well as foots which is basically the residue collected from the oil processing and used for the food and manufacturing products markets. Despite all these, the herb is now primarily grown for the oil content in its seeds.
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Chemical analysis of the linoleic safflower oil has shown that it encloses nearly 75 per cent of linoleic acid. The concentration of linoleic acid in safflower oil is much higher than that compared to corn, soybean, and cottonseed, peanut or even olive oils. This variety of safflower is mainly used for producing edible oil products like salad oils and soft margarines. Significantly, researchers still argue over the issue that oils having high concentration of polyunsaturated acids such as linoleic acid aid in reducing high blood cholesterol and averting associated heart and circulatory disorders. All said and done, the oil extracted from the safflower seeds are still thought to be high value edible oil and, ironically enough, the public concern regarding this topic has made the safflower a vital vegetation for plant oil and the oil itself all the more acceptable.
Safflower oil varieties that contain high percentage of oleic acid may function as a heat-stable, but it is supposed to be a very costly cooking oil that is primarily used for frying potato chips and French fries. They are also used in industries as oil for paint base or manufacturing other coverings for the exterior. It may be mentioned here that the oil is pale in color and does not turn yellow even after long storage periods. This enables the use of the oil in white or other light colored paints. Interestingly, the safflower oil can also be used as a substitute for diesel fuel, but like most other vegetable oils, using it as a substitute for diesel will make it a very expensive affair.
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The meal left behind following the extraction of the vegetable oil from the safflower seeds serve as a protein enhancement for farm animals. This meal normally comprises about 24 per cent protein and substantial amount of fiber. Decorticated meal or the substance after removal of the hulls or the outer coverings contains approximately 40 per cent protein and lesser fiber content. Foots, that remain as a residue after the oil processing, form an ingredient in the manufacture of soaps. On the other hand, the birdseed merchants purchase the minor fraction of the seed produce to be used as food for caged birds. In addition to these, the tender safflower plants and the short stalks left in the fields after the harvesting can be grazed by the cattle and sheep.
The safflower is considered to be indigenous to Iran, northwestern India and perhaps to Africa also. Presently, the safflower can be found even in North America as well as the Far East. Normally, the safflower thrives best in the open areas and is harvested during the summer.
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The safflower plant grows once in a year and belongs to the same species as the sunflower. The safflower prefers arid lands or the irrigated cropping method. The plant is generally propagated through its seeds which sprouts and gives rise to a fundamental stem. This central stem does not extend till two to three weeks and bears leaves close to the ground like a rosette or rose-shaped badge much akin to the immature thistle. It may be borne in mind that the sluggish development of the seedlings in the early part of spring frequently leads to a feeble yield. On the other hand, depending on the environmental conditions of the place where the safflower is grown, the sturdy central stem bears quite a lot of branches that often grown between 12 to 36 inches in length. Significantly, the safflower is able to balance the damages done owing to hails and very little yield is lost once the branches of the plant are well developed. The safflower herb can endure drought more than the small grains as it has a taproot that normally grows between eight to ten feet provided warmth and dampness of the sub-soil permit it. During the phase when safflower flower buds emerge, firm thorns develop along the edge of the leaves of most variety of the plant species. This often makes it difficult to walk through the fields where the safflower grows.
Normally, the safflower branches emerging from the central stem bear one to five flower heads. These flower heads are approximately one inch in width and are normally yellow or orange colored. However, some varieties of the safflower plants also bear red and white colored flowers. While the buds of the safflower begin to form in late June, the blossoming begins around middle to late July. The safflower flowering season persists for two to three weeks based on the atmospheric conditions, compactness of the soil as well as the dissimilarities among the different varieties of the plant. Each of the flower heads of safflower comprises 15 to 30 seeds and the oil concentration in these seeds varies between 30 to 45 per cent. As the mature seeds are covered in the flower heads, they do blow apart before harvesting. In addition, the protection also greatly prevents loss of seeds due to bird feeds. Normally, the safflower seeds mature around September - four weeks after the end of the flowering season.
Several studies conducted by the Chinese researchers have shown that the safflower flowers possess the capability to lessen the possibilities of the coronary artery diseases as well as diminish the cholesterol levels in the system. The chemical analysis of the safflower has show that it encloses polysaccharide or complex carbohydrates which has the potential to invigorate the immune system in mice. In addition, the oil extracted from safflower is also beneficial in lowering the intensity of cholesterol in the system.
Safflower contains carthamone, lignans, and a polysaccharide.
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