The Universal Herbal: Carthamus Tinctorius; Officinal Bastard Saffron, or Safflower.

The Universal Herbal;
or botanical, medical and agricultural dictonary.
Containing an account of All the known Plants in the World, arranged according to the Linnean system. Specifying the uses to which they are or may be applied, whether as food, as medicine, or in the arts and manufactures.
With the best methods of propagation, and the most recent agricultural improvements.
collected from indisputable Authorities.
Adapted to the use of the farmer - the gardener - the husbandman - the botanist - the florist - and country housekeepers in general.
By Thomas Green.
Vol. I
Printed at the Caxton Press by Henri Fisher.
Printer in Ordinary to His Majesty.
Leaves ovate, entire, serrate, aculeate. — This is an annual plant, which rises with a stiff ligneous stalk, two feet and a half or three feet high, dividing upwards into many branches, with ovate pointed sessile leaves; the lower part of the calix spreads open, but the scales above closely embrace the florets, which stand out nearly an inch above the calix; these are of a fine saffron-colour: when the florets decay, the germina become oblong angular seeds, of a white colour, and having a pretty strong shell or cover to them: it flowers in July and August, and the seeds ripen in autumn; but if the season prove cold and moist when the plant is in flower, it will produce no good seed, so that there are few seasons wherein the seeds of this plant come to perfection in England: it grows naturally in Egypt, and in some of the warm parts of Asia. Mr. Miller informs us, that he has frequently received the seeds from the British islands in America, but whether they naturally grew there or not, he was never positively informed. This plant was formerly cultivated in the fields in several parts of England for the dyer's use, and particularly in Gloucestershire, where the common people frequently gathered the florets and dried them, to give a colour to their puddings and cheesecakes; but by employing too great a quantity, they acquired a cathartic quality. If this plant were ever cultivated among us in large quantities, it is surprising how it came to be so totally neglected, that at present there are not the least traces of its cultivation to be met with in any part of England, insomuch that the commodity is scarcely known, except to those who deal in it. The quantity annually consumed in England is so great, as to make it a considerable article of trade, so that it might be well worthy of public attention; for although the seeds seldom come to perfection in England, yet these might be procured from abroad, and the plants would constantly produce the flower, which is the only part used in dyeing. This plant is cultivated in great plenty in some parts of Ger many, where the seeds constantly come to perfection; and a short account of their method of cultivation, by a curious gentleman of that country, is here inserted, for the benefit of those who may be induced to engage in cultivating it. The ground in which they sow has always a double fallow given to it, first to destroy the weeds, and afterwards to make it fine; they make choice of their lightest land, and such as is clear from couchgrass and other troublesome weeds, after the land has been fallowed a summer and winter, in which time they give it four ploughings, and harrow it between each to break the clods and pulverize it: in the latter end of March, they give it the last ploughing, when they lay it in narrow furrows of about five feet or a little more, leaving a space of two feet between each; then they harrow these lands to make them level, and after it is finished they sow the seeds in the following manner: With a small plough, they draw four shallow furrows in each land, at near a foot and half distance, into which they scatter the seed thinly, then with a harrow, the teeth of which are little more than one inch long, they draw the earth into the drills to cover the seeds; after this they draw a roller over the ground, to smooth and settle it: when the plants are come up so as to be distinguished, they hoe the ground, to destroy the weeds; and at this operation, where the plants happen to be close, they cut up the least promising, leaving them all single, at the distance of three or four inches, which they always suppose will be sufficient room for their growth, till the second time of hoeing, which must be performed in about five weeks after the first, in which they are guided by the growth of the weeds; for as this work is performed with a Dutch hoe, so they never suffer the weeds to grow to any size before they cut them; in which they judge right, for when the weeds are small, one man will hoe as much ground in a day, as can be performed by three when they are permitted to grow large, and the weeds will also be more effectually destroyed: they give a third hoeing to the plants about five or six weeks after the second, which generally makes the ground so clean, as to require no farther clearing until the carthamus is pulled up. When the plants begin to flower, and have thrust out their florets or thrum to a proper length, they go over the ground once a week, to gather it; and as it is from time to time ga thered, it is dried in a kiln for use; there is usually a succession of flowers for six or seven weeks. After the crop is ga thered, the stalks are pulled and tied in bundles for fuel; and after they have been set up a few days to dry, they are carried off, and the ground is ploughed for wheat, which they say always succeeds well after this plant. The following is the method pursued in cultivating the carthamus in British gardens: The seeds are sown in April, upon a bed of light earth, in drills drawn at two feet and a half distance from each other; the seeds are thinly scattered, as the plants must not stand nearer to each other than a foot in the rows; but as some of the seeds will fail, a sufficient quantity to admit of thinning when the ground is hoed, should be sown. If the seed be good, the plants will appear in less than a month; and in a fortnight or three weeks after they appear, it will be proper to hoe the ground to destroy the weeds, and at the same time thin the plants wherever they may be too close; but at this time they should not be separated to their full distance, lest some of them should afterwards fail; if removed six inches asunder, there will be room enough for the plants to grow till the next time of hoeing, when they must be thinned to the distance they are finally to remain: after this they should have a third hoeing, which, if carefully performed in dry weather, will destroy the weeds and make the ground clean, so that the plants will require no further care, till they come to flower, when, if the safflower is intended for use, the florets should be cut off from the flowers as they come to perfection; but this must be performed when they are perfectly dry, and afterwards they should be dried in a kiln, with a moderate fire, in the same manner as the true saffron, which will prepare them for use. If the plants be intended to seed, the plants should not be gathered; for if the florets be cut off, it will render the seeds abortive, though they may swell and grow to their usual size, for when they are broken they will prove to be a shell without a kernel; this is frequently the case in wet cold seasons; and in very wet ones the germen will rot, and never come so forward as to form a shell. The good quality of the carthamus consists chiefly in the colour, which should be a bright saffron, in which that cultivated in England often fails; for if there happen much rain while the plant is in flower, it will change the florets to a dark or dirty yellow, and also that which is gathered when there is any moisture remaining upon it; great care therefore must be taken not to gather it till the dew is dried off, nor should it be pressed together till it has been dried on the kiln; for which, see the genus Crocus. Great quantities of this plant are annually imported into England for dyeing and painting, from the Levant, where, as well as in many parts of Europe, it is at present cultivated. The Spaniards retain this plant in their gardens, to colour their soups, olios, and other dishes, in the same manner as the marigold in England. The Jews also are very partial to it, and mix it in most of their viands, and probably were the first importers of the seed into America, and taught the inhabitants the use of it, for it is now as commonly used by the English there as in any part of Europe. The plant itself may be admitted to have a place in the borders of large gardens, where it will add to the variety during the time of its continuance in flower, which is commonly two months or ten weeks; for if the seeds be sown in the beginning of April, the first flowers will at least appear by the middle of July, and there will be a succession of flowers on the side-branches till the end of September, and in mild warm seasons till the middle of October, during which time the plants will not be destitute of flowers, which being of a bright saffron colour, make a pretty appearance; and if the plants be supported, to prevent their being broken or blown down by the wind, they will not interfere with the other flowers, because they have a regular upright growth.

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