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Safflower plant


Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

A thistle plant, Carthamus tinctorius, originally found in Egypt and southern Asia. Safflower was also cultivated in Europe for the oil in its seeds. The flowers of the safflower plant contain a yellow dye and a red dye. The yellow colorant, safflor, is water soluble. The red dye, Carthamin, is extracted from the dried, crushed flower heads with a weak alkali solution after the yellow has been removed with cold water. The yellow color was rarely used while the red safflower was commonly used for dyeing red or pink Silk and Linen since ancient times. It was imported to Europe in the 18th century. Safflower red was used to dye government red tape and may have been used as a pigment. Carthamin is not a permanent color and is sensitive to acids, alkalis, heat, and light.

Safflower petal cakes

EEM Color

Safflower color.PNG

EEM Line

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Synonyms and Related Terms

Carthamus tinctorius; Natural Yellow 5; Natural Red 26; carthame (Fr.); faux safran (Fr.); Deutscher saflor (Deut.); cartamo (It., Esp.); saffloor (Ned.); beni (Jap.); benibana (Jap.); Färberdistel (Deut.); knikos (Gr.); karthamos (Gr.); saffloor (Ned.); cartamina (Port.); carthamus; bastard saffron; carthamin; distaff thistle; dyer's thistle; seaflower; African saffron; false saffron; safflor; rose carthame; saffron thistle; American saffron

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Safflor is soluble in water and is not lightfast.
  • Carthamin is soluble in alkalis and slightly soluble in water.
  • ISO R105 Lightfastness Classification = 1
  • CAS = 1401-20-3

Additional Images

Resources and Citations

  • J.Hofenk-de Graaf, Natural Dyestuffs: Origin, Chemical Constitution, Identification, Central Research Laboratory for Objects of Art and Science, Amsterdam, September 1969.
  • R.J. Adrosko, Natural Dyes in the United States, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1968
  • Helmut Schweppe, Schweppe color collection index and information book
  • Palmy Weigle, Ancient Dyes for Modern Weavers, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1974
  • John and Margaret Cannon, Dye Plants and Dyeing, Herbert Press, London, 1994
  • R.Feller, M.Curran, C.Bailie, 'Identification of Traditional Organic Colorants Employed in Japanese Prints and Determination of their Rates of Fading', Japanese Woodblock Prints, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, 1984
  • F. Crace-Calvert, Dyeing and Calico Printing, Palmer & Howe, London, 1876
  • Colour Index International online at
  • J. Thornton, 'The Use of Dyes and Colored Varnishes in Wood Polychromy', Painted Wood: History and Conservation, Getty Conservation Insitute, Los Angeles, 1998
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 826
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • R.D. Harley, Artists' Pigments c. 1600-1835, Butterworth Scientific, London, 1982
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983 Comment: entry 1918 - carthamus
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • Thomas B. Brill, Light Its Interaction with Art and Antiquities, Plenum Press, New York City, 1980