Waste not the waste

The Safflower or American Saffron (botanical name Carthamus Tinctorius) or just plain Kusube in Kannada is an oil crop but a much neglected plant. The Kusube is cultivated during the Rabi season in North Karnataka and is mainly grown as a mixed crop along with jowar, Bengal gram and wheat, planted every 8-10 rows.

The plant, with its thorn-ridden leaves, is also used as a natural fence to protect other crops from cattle and thieves. The harvested Safflower crop, sown during October-November, is already piled up for oil extraction and other uses. But it is unfortunate to see parts of the plant - stalk, stem, leaves etc - being thrown away, deemed to be of no use at all.

The farmers have several misconceptions about this plant and usually throw it away after plucking its flowers off. Popular belief is that Safflower does not denegerate naturally or that it won’t decompose with other components in the garbage, which is totally baseless.
Any biomass has to disintegrate biologically. It should degenerate in the soil into manure and enrich the soil.

Apart from the main nutrients like NPK, the decomposed Safflower also releases other nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, boran, lead, copper and nickel, says Dr Chandrakant Khalibavi, agricultural scientist at Hagari, Bellary district.

Farmers are also scared of white weed invading their fields, if Safflower manure is used. But the white weed is a parasitic plant which affects the roots of the jowar crop. This fear needs to be addressed quickly as all these misconceptions are turning into a curse for the Safflower plant waste. Some people even set fire to this valuable biofuel, destroying nutrients along with it.

Others are deterred by the thorns on the Kusube leaves and tend to neglect giving the plant its due care. Early morning care would resolve the prickly problem altogether.

Medicinal value

Safflower is a veritable medicine house.

The decoction of dried Safflower flowers is effective against cold, rheumatism, arthritis, dysmenorrhoea and bacillary dysentry among other ailments, says Dr Ashwini Vastrad, an Ayurveda practitioner and lecturer at Sri Sindhagi Shantaveeresha Ayurvedic College. The decoction is also known to have increased the body immunity.

Flower, stem, leaf, seed, root, bark –all parts of the Safflower plant are valuable medicinally. Common but usually neglected complaints like itching, body pain and old, festering wounds vanish after a massage using the oil extracted from any of these plant parts.

What’s more, the tender leaves of Kusube are also used in making salads and curries in places like Haveri and Ranebennur. Huggi made using Safflower seeds is a traditional dish in the region.

The Safflower is a plant full of benefits. It’s time the farmers realised this. 

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