How much do you really know about safflower? This unique and pretty flower is an ingredient of many tea and tisane blends, and rarely prepared on its own. With small and long, intensely orange-red needle like petals, it resembles saffron, but it's much more than a saffron substitute.
Safflower has its own story to tell.
What is safflower?
Safflower or Carthamus tinctorius L. is a small flowering plant from the daisy botanical family. It has a beautiful yellow, orange or red colour that looks incredibly beautiful in tea blends. It's much more popular and used in Eastern countries than it's in the West.
This flower is grown in over 60 countries, with India and China being some of the largest producers. It's used mostly for making safflower oil, as a dye, flavouring, and as an herbal medicine (1).
You have probably heard of safflower before. Maybe you haven't used it on its own, but it was undoubtedly a part of some tea blend you tried. In fact, safflower is one of the most popular and the most common floral ingredients in tea blends today. You will easily recognise it by small needle like intense orange-red petals. At first, it may seem like this tea is not doing much in a tea blend except making it look pretty.
But safflower has an appealing flavour and many potential benefits that make this flower more than just a beautiful addition to a tea blend.
Since petals are edible, you can also use them for decorating desserts, cookies and other dishes.
Is safflower the same as saffron?
If you aren't familiar with both saffron and safflower, these two flowers may look very similar. However, if you take a closer look, you will immediately see the difference. Saffron (spice) is made from dried a dried stigma of the saffron flower, not from the petals. It will always look like a long, dark and intense red thread. In fact, saffron flowers are purple, not red.
Safflower is sometimes called a fake saffron or bastard saffron, and can be used as a spice too, as a replacement for saffron. However, it's made from whole petals and while they also have a needle-like shape, they don't look like threads. Besides, saffron is very strong and aromatic, and safflower is much lighter. Their flavour profile and scents are different too. Saffron has a beautiful complex and intense scent, while the scent of safflower may not be as inviting, although it's strong as well. It has a much stronger herbal note that's closer to floral teas than it is to spices.
And last, saffron is one of the most expensive spices. Thankfully, you will only need a tiny amount to add lots of flavour and colour to your tea. With safflower, you'll need to add much more to achieve a strong flavour. However, it's also much more affordable.
Safflower health benefits
Safflower may provide many potential health benefits. Surprisingly, it shares many of them with saffron, even though they are two completely different plants.
This unique flower is used as a home remedy for treating anxiety and depression. (2) It may provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and improve cognitive function in Alzheimer's disease. Seeds may provide benefits too, such as improving osteoporosis (3) and they are mostly used for making safflower oil, not the tea. However, it's important to note that more studies are needed to confirm safflower's potential. One of the primary uses besides helping with anxiety and depression is promoting blood circulation (4).
Since safflower may act as a blood thinner, avoid it if you are taking blood thinners and similar medicine.
Interestingly, saffron may provide the same benefits – help with anxiety and depression and could have the same blood thinning side-effects as safflower. Avoid both of them during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
In rare cases, there's also a possibility of an allergic reaction. If you are allergic to daisies or chrysanthemums, which belong to the same botanical family as safflower, you may be allergic to safflower too.
Can you make tea with safflower?
Absolutely! Both petals and seeds are edible, but it's the petals that are used for making the tea. You can make a pure safflower herbal tea or blend it with other ingredients. This flower is great for making caffeine-free floral iced tea too.
Safflower tea is easy to make. You will need a freshly boiled water, an infuser or a disposable paper filter, and a cup. If you are using a teapot, choose the one with a removable fine-mesh strainer as safflower petals may be tiny and could easily slip through.
How to make safflower tea?
To make safflower tea, you will need pure dried petals and hot water. Bring fresh water to a boil and steep one teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of water for 5 minutes. Strain and serve. This tea doesn't need any condiments, but goes well with a teaspoon of honey. You can serve it hot or iced, both will taste delicious.
It blends well with:
- chamomile, another calming and soothing flower with sweet flavour
- rooibos tea, caffeine-free herbal tea with sweet and earthy flavour
- orange, try brewing it with fresh or dried orange slices
- green tea, usually slightly stronger teas
What is safflower tea good for?
How much you can benefit from any herbal and real tea will depend on many factors, including the quality of the tea, the way you make it, how you store it, what you consume it with, etc.
While it's difficult to control all these factors, you can choose how you store the tea and how you are making it. If you are looking to enjoy the benefits of one herb, then pure tea may often be a better option than blends. Teas blended with only a few safflower petals will not provide strong (or any) benefits. With most blends, you likely don't need to worry about side-effects either. However, some blends have more than just a few dried petals.
Pure safflower tea may be extremely refreshing. It's great for slow sipping too. When introducing any new herb into your diet, it's important to do it slowly, especially if you are drinking it purely for its potential benefits. In that case, always consult your doctor and make an informed decision.
What does safflower tea taste like?
Safflower tea is very easy to drink. The flavour is slightly floral and sweet, without any heavy or bitter notes. It has the honey-like sweetness of chamomile tea, with light aromatic saffron-like notes. Flavour is different from the scent, which may appear overpowering, so don't let that prevent you from trying it. It doesn't need any sweeteners or condiments either. This tea will taste great even when it cools down, so you don't need to worry about drinking it immediately.
A very light and non-intrusive flavour make it a brilliant choice for many tea drinkers, even if you are very specific about which flavours you like. If you love chamomile, you'll love this tea too.
Which condiments to add?
Safflower tea is not bitter. However, if you want to add some condiments, try honey. Honey is a wonderful choice for floral teas. You can serve safflower tea with a splash of milk too or use it for making floral lattes.
Does safflower tea have caffeine?
No, this tea is caffeine free. However, since it's often used in different tea blends, check the list of ingredients to see if any of them contain caffeine. If you are using pure safflower tea, you don't need to worry about the caffeine content. This tea is suitable for any time of the day.
You can blend it with other calming herbs, such as hop flower and chamomile.
With a beautiful orange-red colour, safflower is one of the prettiest edible flowers in the world. It's also one of the prettiest ingredients for tea blending. But these flowers are much more than just pretty – they taste absolutely delicious and may provide antianxiety properties too.