Carthamus Tinctorius (Flos Carthami, Hong Hua)

Safflower FlowerCarthamus tinctorius herb, also known as flos carthami or Hong Hua, was ever an important dye in ancient times before the inception of synthetic aniline dyes. More than that, it has very high edible and medicinal value. As known to all, carthamus tinctorius seed oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats, and mainly used for the manufacture of margarine, salad oil, and cooking oil. And even its residue, left after the refining, can be used as concentrated feeds to livestock too. But no doubt the most impressive thing about it is its medicinal use. Both of its seeds and flowers have amazing healing power for extensive range of health problems. So, what is safflower used for medicinally? As a matter of fact, this is what this post is all about – to provide you with all the answers and knowledge about this amazing herb.

What is safflower (carthamus tinctorius)?

Medicinally, especially in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), safflower refers to the dried flowers of Carthamus tinctorius L., an annual plant in the family Compositae. Common names include safflower flower and flos carthami. To guarantee high quality, it must be harvested during summer when the tubular flowers turn from yellow to red. When picking it needs to be careful not to damage the ovary located on the base. After the picking, next remove impurities, and dry in the shade or beside a low fire.

The plant is native to Asia, parts of Africa, area from central India to the upstream of the Nile along the Middle East, and Ethiopia. It is an annual plant and 30 to 90cm high. The whole plant is smooth and hairless. Stems are erect, highly branched in the upper part, and with woody base. Leaves are alternate, hard, nearly sessile and amplexicaul, ovate or ovate-lanceolate, 3.5 to 9cm long, 1 to 3.5cm wide, with taper base, acute apex, and spiny margin. Inflorescence is large and apical. Bracts have multiple columns, among which 2 to 3 columns outside are lobate, lanceolate, and with needled margin while inside columns are oval and with thornless white membranous margin. Achenes are oval or obovate, about 5mm long, and with slightly askew base. Its flowering is from June to July and fruiting from August to September. In China, it is commercially cultivated all over the country, mainly in Henan, Zhejiang, Sichuan and other places.

Main chemical constituents are carthamin, precarthamin, safflower yellow A and B, and safflomin A. And it also contains safflower oil, which includes palmitic acid, myristic acid, lauric acid, stearic acid, arachidic acid, and oleic acid.

Carthamus tinctorius benefits

This herb provides many health benefits. According to the study, safflower seed oil contains high linoleic acid, which is able to lower blood lipids and serum cholesterol, soften and expand arteries, prevent atherosclerosis, increase blood circulation, and regulate the heart and aged endocrine system. And the ancients often added a handful of it in the herbal formula in order to get rid of the blood stasis inside the body. And today its decoction is also frequently used, soaking the foot twice a day, for a variety of blood stasis patterns, such as varicose veins, peripheral neuritis, poor blood circulation, legs and feet numbness, or bruising. Besides, carthamus tinctorius tea, supplement, extract, seed oil, and capsules are widely used in skin care, cosmetics, weight loss, acne, arthritis, bodybuilding, diabetes, diet, muscle growth, hair loss, and so on. Does it really work? Let’s take a look at the description of its pharmacology.

Modern safflower pharmacological actions

1. It can mildly excite the heart, lower coronary resistance, and increase coronary blood flow and myocardial nutritional blood flow;
2. It can protect and improve myocardial ischemia, and narrow the range of myocardial infarction;
3. Its decoction, water extract, safflower yellow, etc. can expand peripheral blood vessels, lower blood pressure, inhibit platelet aggregation, enhance fibrinolysis, and reduce blood viscosity;
4. Carthamin isolate can antagonize arrhythmia;
5. Its injection, alcohol extract, and safflower glycosides can significantly improve the hypoxia tolerant capability and have a protective effect on hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE);
6. Its decoction can excite uterus and intestinal smooth muscle;
7. Safflower yellow has analgesic, sedative and anticonvulsant effect on the central nervous system. In addition, it has immunosuppressive effect too;
8. Safflower alcohol extract and water extract have anti-inflammatory effect.

Proven safflower herbal remedies

According to Chinese Materia Medica, this herb is acrid in flavor and warm in properties and covers two meridians of heart and liver. Main functions include activating blood to promote menstruation and removing blood stasis to relieve pain. Essential carthamus tinctorius uses and indications are amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, abdominal pain caused by postpartum obstruction, bladder impediment, cardiodynia, concretions and gatherings, traumatic injury, arthralgia, hemiplegic paralysis in stroke, and rash. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 10 grams in decoction. By the way, smaller dose makes sense for the purposes of nourishing and harmonizing the blood but relatively larger dose is preferred when activating blood circulation to remove blood stasis.

1. Hong Lan Hua Jiu. From Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer), this formula uses this herb along with rice wine to treat dysmenorrhea.

2. Tao Hong Si Wu Tang. From Yi Zong Jin Jian (Golden Mirror of Orthodox medicine), it combines this herb with Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Chi Shao (Red Peony Root) and Tao Ren (Peach Seed) mainly for the treatment of amenorrhea.

3. Hong Hua San. From Huo Fa Ji Yao (Essentials of Flexible Methods), this prescription is usually formulated for postpartum abdominal pain due to blood stasis. Other major herbal ingredients include He Ye (Lotus Leaf), Pu Huang (Cattail Pollen), Mu Dan Pi (Tree Peony Root Cortex), and so on.

4. Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang. From Yi Lin Gai Cuo (Correcting the Errors in the Forest of Medicine), this recipe is basically designed for stasis-induced abdominal pain. Other important herbs are Peach Seed, Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage Root), Niu Xi (Achyranthes Root), and more.

5. Fu Yuan Huo Xue Tang. From the Yi Xue Fa Ming (The Study of Medicine Made Clear), it allies with Peach Seed, Chai Hu (Bupleurum), Da Huang (Rhubarb), and others primarily for the stabbing pain in lateral thorax.

Carthamus tinctorius side effects and contraindications

Clinically misuse of carthamus tinctorius flower may lead to toxic reactions, mainly including abdominal discomfort, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or even gastrointestinal bleeding, cramping, and menorrhagia in women, are closely related to its intestinal and uterine stimulant effect. When poisoning occurs, some may be in a confused state of mind, weary, and with tremors, convulsions in severe cases, respiratory inhibition after the first excitement, even circulatory, respiratory failure, or dizziness, rash and a transient hives in few patients. The above-mentioned symptoms are closely related to its excitation and allergic reactions on the nervous system. The reasons for the poisoning are twofold. One is misuse and the other is overdose. As a result, it shouldn’t be used during pregnancy and use it with care in the cases of peptic ulcer disease and bleeding disorders.

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