Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) belongs to the sunflower family Compositae Asteraceae and was a traditional dye plant of the Old World. Its yellow-red flowers were extensively used to colour foods and to dye textiles. With the recent development of synthetic dyes the importance of this crop declined considerably, although since the 1950s safflower acquired a new use and has emerged as a major oil crop.

Well preserved garlands made of C. tinctorius flowers were found adorning 18th-dinasty (middle 2nd millenium BC) mummies in Egypt. Also, chemical analysis of Egyptian textiles dated from the 12th dinasty showed safflower to be one of the dyes used. These records indicate that C. tinctorius was well known in ancient Egypt, but the early history of safflower outside Egypt is still unknown.

The wild stock from which the domesticant could have been derived is well identified. The cultivated C. tinctorius is inter-fertile and chromosomally homologous with a group of wild and weedy early summer thistles widely distributed over the Syrian desert, Iraq, Iran, and Central Asia, but totally missing in Egypt. This distribution suggests a Near Eastern or Central Asiatic origin and domestication that must have preceded the Egyptian 2nd millenium BC archeological finds.

Carthamus tinctorius L. flowers and seeds are considered as edible ingredients worldwide and used for tea like preparations, animals feed and for oil production. Safflower is infact commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from the seeds and traditionally for its flowers, used for colouring and flavouring foods. Carthamus tinctorius L. is a highly branched, herbaceous, thistle-like annual. Plants are 30 to 150 cm tall with globular flower heads having yellow, orange or red flowers. Each branch will usually have from 1 to 5 flower heads containing 15 to 20 seeds per head.