Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual, usually with many long sharp spines on the leaves. Plants are 30 to 150 cm tall with globular flower heads commmonly, brilliant yellow, orange or red flowers which bloom in July.
Safflower oil is flavourless and colourless, and nutritionally similar to sunflower oil. It is used mainly as a cooking oil, in salad dressings, and for the production of margarine. It may also be taken as a nutritional supplement.
Safflower flowers are occasionally used in cooking as a cheaper substitute for saffron, and are thus sometimes referred to as "bastard saffron."
There are two types of safflower that produce different kinds of oil: one high in monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid) and the other high in polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic acid). Currently the predominant oil market is for the former, which is lower in saturates than olive oil.