We have entered the micro-season of “The Safflower Blossoms”. This is the second micro-season of the mini-season of Grain Full.
Each mini-season contains three micro-seasons. The micro-seasons contained within Grain Full are:
- The Silkworm Awakes and Eats the Mulberry (May 21 – May 25)
- The Safflower Blossoms (May 26 – May 30)
- The Time for Wheat (May 31 – Jun 4)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
What is Grain Full?
The mini-season Grain Full refers to the time in the year when the plants begin to mature and life abounds. It isn’t time to harvest yet, but the weather has made a turn for the better. Some other translations of this season are Small Full (Grain)(1) and Fine Weather.(2)
The safflower, or Carthamus tinctorius, is a flowering annual plant that is a part of the Asteraceae family. Other plants in this family include the sunflower, daisy, and aster. The safflower’s flower may be red, orange, yellow, or white.(3)
The safflower is a fast-growing plant that resembles a thistle. It can grow up to about five feet tall (150 cm) and prefers drier climates with predictable seasonal rains. In order to survive in drier climates, the safflower has developed a tap root system that can descend up to six feet into the earth.(4) The term “taproot” is used to describe the root system that has one dominant thick root that descends directly into the earth with smaller fibrous roots extending from it. A carrot is a great example of a taproot that also stores nutrients.
The safflower is one of the oldest cultivated crops and is native to Asia and Africa, including parts of India, the Middle East, and Egypt. Scientists and archeologists have found evidence that the safflower was grown for human use as early as 2500 BC(4).
An interesting side note is that garlands made of safflower were found in the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun.(4) Tutankhamun is also known as King Tut. King Tut died at about 18 years of age in the year 1323 BC.
1. Safflower as a dye
The dried safflower produces both red and yellow dyes that can be used in the dyeing of wool, silk, or cotton.(5) The colors come from a compound known as carthamin. Carthamin produces a light-sensitive dye that is prone to fading.
It is expensive to create dyes from the safflower plant so they were often mixed with the other dyes such as turmeric and sappan to create the desired colors. In the 1800s, scientists created a compound known as fuchsine which began to compete with safflower dye in many industrial processes.(6) Synthetic dyes now produce many of the colors that people used to create with safflower.
2. Safflower oils
The safflower plant can produce two types of oil. One is edible and one is used in painting.
The edible type of safflower oil is known for being high in omega-6 essential fatty acids and vitamin E.(7) Unrefined safflower oil is good to use in salad dressing. High-oleic safflower oils, which contain more monounsaturated fats, can be used in high-temperature cooking such as deep frying.(7)
Health benefits of safflower oil may include the reduction in cholesterol and lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, there is limited scientific data to back up these claims.(8)
The safflower oil used in painting processes contains a higher level of linoleic acid and is often used in place of linseed oil.(4) Safflower oil does not yellow with age and this makes it particularly useful in white paints and some varnishes.(3)
Poems About Safflower
The phrase “waka poetry” was originally used to describe classical Japanese poetry including both short-form and long-form poetry.(8) In Japan during the Nara period (710-794), an effort was made to gather many waka poems into a collection titled the Man’yōshū, or Collection of a Myriad Leaves.(9) Although the exact history of this collection is unknown, it is suspected that Ōtomo no Yakamoch (716-785) was responsible for gathering the poetry currently found in Man’yōshū.(9)
The Man’yōshū contains over 4,500 waka divided between 20 volumes and three genres. The three genres are:
- Zoka, songs at banquets and trips;
- Somonka, songs about love between men and women; and
- Banka songs to mourn the death of people. (9)
The next two poems that reference the safflower come from the Man’yōshū and were found at Waka Poetry.net.
Man’yōshū, Book XI, poem 2623
In safflower Dipped many times, my robe Worn morn after morn Has familiar wrinkles, yet Is all the more dear for that… -Unknown Author
Man’yōshū, Book XVII, poem 4021
Upon the River Ogami Glowing safflower scarlet Do the maidens seem; Harvesting ashitsuki Standing in the shallows… -Ōtomo no Yakamochi
This third poem also came from Waka Poetry.net. However, this poem comes from the collection titled the Kokinwakashū, or “Collection of Japanese Poetry Ancient and Modern.” This collection is known to be the successor to the Man’yōshū and was completed around the year 920.
Kokinwakashū, Book XI, Poem 496
Unknown to all Are my feelings; what pain! Scarlet As the safflower Would I show my love. -Anonymous
Finally, because we can’t forget to include some haiku on the subjects, we have two haiku by Matsuo Basho.
reminiscent of eyebrow brushes – safflower blossoms -Basho
Seifu’s haiku Faded Like Safflower powder -Basho
In this second haiku Basho mentions a person known as Seifu. Seifu was a safflower wholesaler, poet, and host to Basho as he traveled to Obanazawa in 1689.(11) I am not sure if Basho is using his haiku to criticize Seifu’s haiku or not. But I find it interesting the comparison he makes between the haiku and fading nature of safflower powder.
- Kelly Pang, “The 24 Solar Terms”; China Highlights
- “Fine Weather”: Season by Season.org
- “Safflower”: Britannica.com
- “Safflower: Wikipedia.com
- “Dyeing with Safflower”: Wild Colours
- “Carthamin”; Wikipedia
- “What Is Safflower Oil?”: MasterClass.com
- “Safflower – Uses, Side Effects, and More”; WebMD
- “Waka (poetry)’: Wikipedia
- “Man’yōshū”; Wikipedia
- “Stage 25, July 1689”; matsuo-basho-haiku
Basho’s Haiku was retrieved from Gábor Terebess’ “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in Romanized Japanese with English translations” and Matsuobashohaiku.home.blog