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Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) forage


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Safflower, false saffron [English]; cártamo, alazor, azafrán bastardo, azafranillo [Spanish]; carthame des teinturiers, safran des teinturiers, safran bâtard [French]; açafrão-bastardo [Portuguese]; saffloer [Dutch]; Färberdistel, saflor [German]; kesumba [Indonesian/Javanese]; cartamo, zafferanone [Italian]; aspir [Turkish]; ሱፍ [Amharic]; عصفر [Arabic]; কুসুম ফুল [Bengali]; 红花 [Chinese]; חריע [Hebrew]; ベニバナ [Japanese]; ചെണ്ടൂരകം [Malayalam]; करडई [Marathi]; گلرنگ [Persian]; cафлор красильный [Russian]; คำฝอย [Thai]


Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) is an annual herbaceous, highly branched plant that can reach 0.3-1.5 m in height. It has an extensive root system with a strong fleshy taproot reaching 2-3 m in depth and thin lateral roots exploring the first 30 cm of the soil (Ecoport, 2010; Oyen et al., 2007). The stems are glabrous, greenish white, cylindrical and woody near the base. The leaves are sessile, arranged in a rosette from the base, 4-20 cm long × 1-5 cm broad, glossy dark green; the upper leaves bear many sharp spines. Each stem bears a terminal inflorescence. It is a globular capitulum, 1.3-3.5 cm in diameter, containing 20-80 tubular orange-red flowers becoming dark red during flowering. Each flower produces one fruit. Safflower fruits are achenes, usually called "seeds", surrounded by a thick fibrous hull. They are smooth, shiny and angular, about 6-9 mm long, white or brownish and white with grey, brown or black stripes. They generally contain 33-60% hull and 40-67% kernel (Baümler et al., 2006; Mündel et al., 2004; Ecoport, 2010; Oyen et al., 2007).

A multipurpose crop, safflower was originally grown for its flowers that were used in making red and yellow dyes for clothing and food preparation, but it is now primarily grown for its oil, which is used for food and industrial purposes. Safflower is a minor crop with a world production of about 650 Mt in 2009 (FAO, 2010). There are linoleic and oleic types of safflower varieties. The oil in linoleic varieties contains about 70-80% linoleic acid and is used for edible oil products such as salad oils and soft margarines. The oil of oleic varieties contains about 80% oleic acid and serves as a heat-stable cooking oil, or as a drying or semi-drying oil for paints and other surface coatings (GRDC, 2010; Oelke et al., 1992). Other industrial uses include soap and "roghan wax" for the batik industry (Dajue et al., 1996), pharmaceutical products, infant formulas, cosmetics and biodiesel (GRDC, 2010).

Several safflower seed products can be used as animal feeds: the seeds themselves, the by-product of oil extraction (safflower meal) and the hulls (Oelke et al., 1992). Safflower young leaves may be eaten as a vegetable, and safflower foliage and stems can be used as green fodder, hay or silage (Ecoport, 2010; Oyen et al., 2007). It is potentially valuable as a fodder plant in semi-arid and arid areas (Landau et al., 2005; Dajue et al., 1996).


Safflower probably originated from the East Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It was already cultivated and used as mummy ornamentation in Ancient Egypt in 2000 BC. Thanks to its tolerance for cold and drought, it is now widely cultivated within 20°S and 40°N, and from sea level to an altitude of 900 m and above in tropical areas (1400 m in Ethiopia, 1800 m in Kenya) (Ecocrop, 2010). The five main producers are India, USA, Mexico, Argentina and Kazakhstan (FAO, 2011).

Optimal growth conditions vary with plant development: cool temperatures (average day-temperatures between 15°C and 20°C) are necessary in the early stages while warmer ones (20°C to 30°C) are required for stems growth and flowering (Ecoport, 2010). Safflower can grow under widely different amounts of annual rainfall: if no drying winds occur it may grow at below 300 mm annual rainfall; in windy conditions, it will need 800-1000 mm rainfall. A major portion of the rainfall should occur before flowering. Safflower also responds well to irrigation (Oyen et al., 2007). For optimal growth, fairly deep, well-drained, sandy loams and soils with pH ranging from 5 to 8 should be chosen for safflower cultivation. Safflower is tolerant of sodium salinity but less so of calcium and magnesium salts. However, high salinity alters safflower growth and seed yield (Ecoport, 2010; Oyen et al., 2007).

Forage management 

Safflower can be sown either before winter or earlier, during late summer, after cereal harvest. In arid and semi-arid conditions, winter sowing is advisable. It is a valuable forage for Mediterranean areas since it remains green and has a higher feed value under dry conditions. Safflower is a valuable forage provided it is harvested from mid-budding to early blooming stage so that it is not too prickly and thus remain highly palatable to livestock (Landau et al., 2005; Göhl, 1982). Safflower can be directly grazed by sheep and cattle or fed fresh in a cut-and-carry system. Safflower is also used as hay especially if it has suffered from frost. Silage should be prepared from safflower at the budding stage (Peiretti, 2009; Oyen et al., 2007). Addition of N fertilizer to Safflower may enhance silage quality as the safflower N content improves lactic acid bacteria activity in the silage (Weinberg et al., 2007). Safflower DM yield and/or straw yield range from 3.5 to 8 t/ha (Yau et al., 2010, Arslan et al., 2008; Landau et al., 2004; Weinberg et al., 2007). Safflower yields 1500 kg seeds/ha in rainfed conditions and twice that yield under irrigation (Oyen et al., 2007).

Environmental impact 

Low N fertilizer requirements and crop rotation

Safflower does not require high levels of N fertilizer (which may be deleterious to livestock and oil quality). However, safflower is suitable in rotation with crops requiring fertilizer. When it is sown after crop harvest, safflower benefits from the N applied to the soil for the previous crop. Safflower, because of its taproot, uses NO3 leachates left in the groundwater and is thus considered to be environment-friendly (Yau et al., 2010).

Soil improver

Its deep taproot makes safflower an excellent biological "plough" (Ecoport, 2010).


Two or three rows of safflower planted around a cereal field provide a natural barrier and can keep cattle out of the grain crop (Dajue et al., 1996).

Nutritional aspects
Potential constraints 

Nitrate accumulation

Safflower is prone to accumulate nitrates, and the NO3 content may become deleterious to livestock. However, the risk of nitrate accumulation above dangerous level for livestock due to the use of N fertilizer is relatively small (Bar-Tal et al., 2008).


Safflower forage contains tannins but their effect on feed value has not been investigated yet (Landau et al., 2005).


Early seeding dates and late harvest dates generally produce higher forage yields. However, the crude protein content is highly variable (from 9% to 21% DM) (Landau et al., 2005; Vonghia et al., 1992). In summer sown safflower stands, the crude protein content decreases with maturity and early harvest is thus advisable for good forage quality since it combines yield and protein content (Wichman et al., 2001).

Safflower can be compared with vetch-oat mixtures for green feed yield and nutritive value (Dajue et al., 1996; Vonghia et al., 1992; Göhl, 1982).

There are thornless cultivars, which are useful for feeding (Oyen et al., 2007).

Grazed safflower

Succulent safflower is grazed by livestock. In particular, sheep seem to relish safflower stubble after harvest (Göhl, 1982). Safflower stands remain green after other crops have matured (Landau et al., 2004; Landau et al., 2005).

Ewes have higher DM intakes on safflower than on mature barley stands (Landau et al., 2005). In Australia, grazed safflower sustained satisfactory growth in steers (French et al., 1988), and in Italy in sheep (Landau et al., 2005). It also improved fertility in ewes (Stanford et al., 2001) and did not affect milk yield (Landau et al., 2005).

Cut-and carry

Confined sheep fed green safflower ate it as readily as a mixture of vetch and oat (Vonghia et al., 1992).

Hay and straw

Hay of good quality can be made out of safflower and it is readily eaten by sheep despite the spines, which are thoroughly chewed (Göhl, 1982). Ewes and dairy cows fed on safflower were shown to have selective behaviour and the level of refusal (mainly stems) was 14% of the offered hay for cows (Landau et al., 2004; Stanford et al., 2001).

Ewes fed on safflower hay showed an enhanced feed conversion ratio and higher lambing rate (Stanford et al., 2001). Safflower hay fed to pregnant dairy cows exhibited very high effective degradability of DM and CP and did not alter body live weight, condition score or milk production (Landau et al., 2004).

Safflower straw is used similarly to cereal straws (Dajue et al., 1996).


Safflower silage may replace wheat and corn silage in dairy cow diets without affecting milk yield (30 kg/day), milk fat or milk lactose content (Landau et al., 2005).

Other species 


Safflower pollen and nectar are sought after by both bees and bumblebees, which are important pollinators (Dajue et al., 1996).

Nutritional tables

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Crude protein % DM 15.0 2.0 12.2 17.0 4
Crude fibre % DM 19.0 6.6 10.9 25.0 4
Ether extract % DM 1.8 0.2 1.6 2.1 4
Ash % DM 11.3 0.8 10.3 12.2 4
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 17.5 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 14.0 2.6 11.0 17.0 4
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.4 0.4 2.9 3.8 4
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 65.1 1
ME ruminants (FAO, 1982) MJ/kg DM 9.3 1
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 75.0 1

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Sen, 1938

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:57

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 92.0 1
Crude protein % DM 12.2 1
Crude fibre % DM 31.1 1
Ether extract % DM 2.4 1
Ash % DM 8.5 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.4 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Scharrer et al., 1940

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:58

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 16.6 1
Crude protein % DM 12.6 1
Crude fibre % DM 31.4 1
Ether extract % DM 4.4 1
Ash % DM 8.9 1
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.8 *
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 70.2 1
ME ruminants (FAO, 1982) MJ/kg DM 10.6 1
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 76.0 1

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Scharrer et al., 1940

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:58

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., 2015. Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) forage. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://feedipedia.org/node/173 Last updated on October 5, 2015, 15:49

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)