Safflowers

Chinese: 红花

Pinyin: Hóng Huā

Parts used: Dried flower

TCM category: Herbs that invigorate the Blood

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Heart Liver

Scientific name: Carthamus tinctorius

Use of safflowers (Hong Hua) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, keep the flower buds and stalks and sieve to remove dust.

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Moves Stagnant Blood and regulates menses. Relieves pain caused by Blood Stasis.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which safflowers may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Amenorrhea Dysmenorrhea Sores Carbuncles Abdominal masses

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by pregnant women.

Common TCM formulas in which safflowers (Hong Hua) are used*

Tao Hong Si Wu Tang

Source date: 1291 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Blood and regulates the Liver. Moves Qi and Blood in the lower abdomen. Stops pain.

Conditions targeted*: Scanty menstruationPainful menstruations and others

Hong Hua is a king ingredient in Tao Hong Si Wu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Tao Hong Si Wu Tang, Hong Hua it helps peach kernels (the other key herb here) tonify and invigorate the Blood and regulate menstruation.

Read more about Tao Hong Si Wu Tang

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Conditions targeted*: AmenorrheaPainful menstruations and others

Hong Hua is a king ingredient in Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang, Hong Hua invigorates the Blood and dispels Blood Stagnation

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Conditions targeted*: Coronary artery diseaseRheumatic valvular heart disease and others

Hong Hua is a king ingredient in Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, Hong Hua invigorates the Blood and eliminates Blood Stagnation, especially in the upper part of the body. 

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang

Source date: 1576 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Expel Dampness. Relieve pain. Move Qi and Blood.

In Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang, Hong Hua invigorates Blood

Read more about Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang

Key TCM concepts behind safflowers (Hong Hua)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), safflowers are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that invigorate the Blood' category. Like the name indicates these herbs tend to stimulate the Blood flow. In TCM they're used to help the circulation of Blood in cardiovascular conditions or menstrual irregularities as well as to treat acute pains caused by Blood Stagnation. They can also be used to treat Blood Stagnation when it causes certain tumors, cysts and hardened clots.

Furthermore safflowers are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that safflowers tend to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition safflowers can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Safflowers also taste Pungent. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Pungent ingredients like safflowers tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such safflowers are thought to target the Heart and the Liver. In addition to regulating Blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on safflowers (Hong Hua)

Long-term ingestion of safflower seed extract in humans could help to improve arterial stiffness.1

Safflower yellow seems to be effective and safe in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke.2

Sources:

1. Suzuki K, Tsubaki S, Fujita M, Koyama N, Takahashi M, Takazawa K. (2010 ). Effects of safflower seed extract on arterial stiffness. Vasc Health Risk Manag. , 3;6:1007-14. doi: 10.2147/VHRM.S13998.

2. Fan S, Lin N, Shan G, Zuo P, Cui L. (2014). Safflower yellow for acute ischemic stroke: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. , 22(2):354-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.01.001.