Yellow saffron (Carthamus tinctorius) is the common name for the American saffron or safflower. Unlike red saffron, which comes from the purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) and is commonly used in Thai food, yellow saffron is a common wild herb that grows primarily in the United States. The flowering yellow saffron plant is also know as Dyer's saffron, fake saffron, flores carthami, Mexican saffron or bastard saffron. The plant is an annual and grows to heights of nearly 3 feet (0.9 m).
The yellow saffron plant grows a single stem with small, compact flowers that resemble those of a thistle plant. The flower blooms during the summer months of June or July and reaches maturity during August. On reaching maturity, the flower turns a deep yellow or red color, and this colored material is sometimes collected for use as a dyeing agent. Historically, the yellow substance of the flower has been used in cosmetic applications and for coloring cloth used for daily wear or in burial wrappings.
Seeds from the yellow saffron plant produce a flavorless and odorless polyunsaturated oil, so the plant is sometimes cultivated for this use. The oil is marketed by itself under the name safflower oil or combined with other oils for flavor. In addition to its use as a cooking oil, the oil of the yellow saffron plant is also used to produce paint or varnish.
Yellow saffron has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, as well. Holistic medical scholar Edgar Cayce proposed the use of the yellow saffron flower for its laxative and diaphoretic qualities. The plant has also been used to reduce the symptoms of fever, measles, psoriasis, digestive disorders and various eruptions caused by skin disorders. In 2007, yellow saffron began to see additional use in the medical field when genetically modified crops were grown to produce insulin for diabetics.
In the past, saffron-infused water, commonly called saffron tea, was made by steeping the flowers of the yellow saffron plant in heated water. This hot tea was commonly used for its effects on the gastrointestinal system and for the reduction of fever. While the practice is still observed by some practitioners of herbal medicine, the use of herbal teas as medicine has largely been replaced by pharmaceutical drugs in the general population.