What Is Safflower Oil?

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A large wicker basket of harvested safflower petals.
Image Credit: ISMODE/iStock/Getty Images

Safflower oil comes from the safflower plant, which is part of the sunflower family. Safflower oil is colorless and odorless. It is used in cooking, salad dressings, paint, cosmetics, medicines and commercial products. It can also be taken as a nutritional supplement. Safflower oil can be found in supermarkets and health food stores.


The safflower is an annual plant that blooms in the summertime. It can be grown in a variety of climates, but cannot tolerate very cold weather. The flowers of the safflower are red, orange or yellow and look like thistles. The petals of the safflower bloom fall off and expose the seeds, which are used to make safflower oil.


Safflower is a very old crop. It grows naturally in Africa, Asia, India and the Mediterranean. Traces of it have been found in Egyptian textiles and tombs from 1600 B.C. During this time, safflowers were used to make dyes and garlands. Today, it is produced in 60 countries.


Two types of safflower oil exist: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Polyunsaturated safflower oil contains linoleic fatty acids and is used cold. It has high nutritional value and is known as heart-healthy oil. It should be refrigerated or stored in a cool place. Monounsaturated safflower oil contains oleic fatty acids and is used primarily for cooking because it has a high smoking point. It is not as healthy as polyunsaturated safflower oil, but it is more shelf-stable.


Safflower oil has many benefits. It helps remove excess fat in the body, reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, strengthen your immune system, regulate your menstrual cycle, and promote hair growth and healthy skin. Safflower oil can also help with diabetes because it removes excess body fat and lowers blood sugar levels. “In traditional Chinese medicine, safflower is used to invigorate the blood, dissipate stasis, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), pain and traumatic injuries. It is also used to "calm" a live fetus and to abort fetuses, so it should be used cautiously during pregnancy.”

Side Effects

Minor side effects of safflower oil include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, loss of appetite and headaches. Serious side effects of safflower oil include hyperthermia, dyspnea (shortness of breath), chest pain, hyperlipemia (excess blood fat disorder) and thrombocytopenia (blood platelet shortage). Excess use of safflower oil may also contribute to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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