Chinese Medicine, Herbalism
comment 1

Safflower – Cathamus Tinctorius

Safflower, Cathamus Tinctorius, is an herb I know little about. Even when I taste a simple of it, the taste and properties still flee my senses and intuition. Upon a single sip of a Safflower infusion, the center back of my tongue is stimulated, with a production of saliva following seconds later. Next the stimulation/saliva production moves from the center back tongue to the edges. When I open my mouth and move my tongue around, I feel a slight tingle in the tip of my tongue. The taste and smell are similar, light and flowery with a bit of oily coating. One thing I can definitely say about it is that it is warm in temperature. safflower1.jpghen I can’t get a feel for the herb on my own, I hit the books. But alas! hardly any of my references mention this yellow-red member of the aster family.

The Spring 1996 issue of The Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine includes a brief listing of Safflower in the botanical materia medica for ovarian cysts. This listing is scientifically orientated:

Theraputic Class: Hemokinetic, analgesic

Compounds Present: Carthamin, safflor yellow A, safflor yellow B, carboxylic acid, and a polysaccharide that has demonstrated immune stimulation in vitro (144)

Considering this is the only bit of information I have about Safflower in my available references, let’s decipher this chemistry jargon. Hemokinetic must refer to blood flow mechanics, since hemo means blood and kinetic means to move. We know that analgesics are used to reduce pain through a number of different mechanisms. The compound carthamin is a pigment found in Safflower, and has been used as a natural dye since ancient times. Wikipedia states that carthamin “…was used extensively in the past for dyeing wool for the carpet industry in European countries and to create cosmetics for Geisha and Kabuki artists in Japan”. I found many titles of research articles and a few abstracts concerning safflor yellow A and B compounds online, but little substance about the nature of these compounds. Here is a quote from an abstract (available at “…SYB [safflor yellow B] might act as a potential neuroprotective agent against the cerebral ischemia-induced injury in rat brain through reducing lipid peroxides, scavenging free radicals, and improving the energy metabolism”. Carboxylic acids are organinc acids, and are present in many food stuff. Citric acid from citrus fruits, malic acid from apples, acetic acid from vinegar, oxalic acid from many foods stuff like spinich, beets, buckwheat and sorrel, as well as fatty acids and amino acids (protein building blocks) are forms of carboxylic acids; but I don’t know what type of carboxylic acids are present in Safflower.

Some internet research led me to learn that it is used in Chinese Medicine (pin yin: Hong Hua) to promote blood circulation, clear up blood stasis (which can relieve pain). It lends itself to the uterus, perhaps because of its blood circulating nature, so it is used for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea and abdominal masses. Likewise safflower can be used topically for traumatic injuries and swellings. Western herbalists have also used hot safflower infusion to encourage sweating during cold and flu. According to, safflower is antiseptic, expectorant, diaphoretic, promotes to onset of menstruation and is sooting to the lungs. I originally purchased this herb to try on a bad case of conjunctivitis (pink eye). An eye wash of the strong infusion soothed the itching and gooey-ness, it did not reduce the redness in my bloodshot eyes (I am going to try goldenseal diluted in saline next, on recommendation). Henriette’s Herbal ( has an informative entry about Safflower.

Filed under: Chinese Medicine, Herbalism


Tea-drinking, nature-loving acupuncturist, East Asian Medicine practitioner, herbalism and birth doula living in the Pacific Northwest.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *