Safflower is commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from the seeds. Plants are 30 to 150 cm (12 to 59 in) tall with globular flower heads having yellow, orange, or red flowers. Each branch will usually have from one to five flower heads containing 15 to 20 seeds per head. Safflower is native to arid environments having seasonal rain. It grows a deep taproot which enables it to thrive in such environments.
There are two types of safflower that produce different kinds of oil:
- Monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid) and
- Polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic acid)
Currently the predominant edible oil market is for the former, which is lower in saturates than olive oil, for example. The latter is used in painting in the place of linseed oil, particularly with white paints, as it does not have the yellow tint which linseed oil possesses.