Butterfly pea (scientific name Clitoria ternatea) is a member of the Fabaceae family. Also known as Asian pigeon wings, this is a perennially growing herbaceous plant. The leaves of butterfly pea are elliptical or obtuse. These plants are a kind of creepers or vine that flourishes in damp, neutral soils.
The color of the plant's flowers is its most conspicuous feature. The flowers appear solitarily and have a deep bright blue hue with slight yellow patterns. The flowers measure around 4 cm (1.6 inches) in length and 3 cm (1.2 inches) wide. A number of butterfly pea varieties also produce white blooms.
The fruits of C. ternatea are long, pods with each pod enclosing anything between six to ten seeds. Each fruit of this species measures between 5 cm and 7 cm (2 inches and 2.8 inches) in length and can be consumed when they are young and soft.
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Clitoria ternatea is generally grown as a revegetation species, for instance in Australia's coal mines. In addition, this creeper/vine is also an ornamental plant. Butterfly pea is easy to grow and does not require much care.
Being a legume, the roots of butterfly pea have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia, bacteria present in the soil. These bacteria convert nitrogen absorbed from the atmosphere into a form that can be used by plants. As a result, this species is often cultivated to enhance the quality of soil be means of decomposition of plants that contain high levels of nitrogen.
Leaves, dried root, flowers.
Butterfly pea contains a number of compounds that are very beneficial for our well-being. For instance, proanthocyanidin present in this herb contains elevated amounts of the flavonol called quercetin, which not only helps to improve our eyesight, but is also useful for treating eye infections and opthalmitis.
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Clinical trials undertaken with butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) have shown that this herb is potentially effective for the health of our eyes and combats eye degeneration due to cataract, diabetes, glaucoma and a number of conditions associated with the eyes. It is believed that the flowers of butterfly pea are among the most valuable herbal products found in Asia.
The butterfly pea plant has its origin in Thailand. People in various regions of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, use the butterfly pea flower extensively for coloring foods, cooking as well as nourishing their hair.
The flowers of this species are also used as ingredients in several beauty and health products. This is mainly because butterfly pea flowers contain quercetin (flavonoid), which is beneficial for the health of our skin and hair.
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Since long, people have discovered and identified the therapeutic properties of butterfly pea and applied the herb for treating several health conditions. This herb possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant and anti-cancer properties.
The flowers of this herb yields a blue concentrate, which is added to various hair care products to encourage healthy hair growth. In present times, people in Thailand use the flowers of butterfly pea to rinse their hair and also as a natural substitute to chemical hair dyes.
Findings of some studies have revealed that the flower of this herb is an excellent source of a polyphenol antioxidant called anthocyanin, which is also present in red grapes. As a result, aside from applying the flowers externally, they are also beneficial when consumed.
Ancient Thai herbal medicine also used this herb for treating hair loss as well as prematurely grey hair. When applied to the hair, this herb helps to promote blood circulation to the scalp, nourishes as well as strengthens hair follicles.
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It has been found that anthocyanin present in the flowers of butterfly pea is especially useful for promoting blood circulation in the scalp area. At the same time, it promotes healthy growth of hair. The flowers of butterfly pea are a natural antioxidant and they help in improving blood circulation as well as preventing grey hair and hair loss.
The whole butterfly plant is used in the ancient Indian herbal medicine system Ayurveda for curing several ailments. While the Clitoria ternatea plant with white blooms is employed to cure specific health disorders, plant bearing blue flowers is used for treating other health issues. Aside from the flowers, the roots as well as the seeds of butterfly pea plant possess therapeutic properties.
The seeds and roots possess purgative properties and are employed in the form of a mild laxative. A group of related peptides found in butterfly pea plant may possess antimicrobial properties and especially be effective in combating E. coli.
These cliotides may also have the potential to destroy carcinogenic cells. Nevertheless, as of now, there is a lack of sufficient scientific evidence to claim that the findings of these studies are correct.
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For several centuries, people in Southeast Asia have been traditionally using this herb to enhance their memory power, reduce anxiety and stress and in the form of an anticonvulsant, antidepressant as well as a sedative. It has been found that butterfly pea plant possesses tranquilizing properties. The entire top part of this herb is smoked to alleviate respiratory problems like asthma.
The flowers as well as the seeds of butterfly pea plant contain oil that is warmed and employed for massaging inflamed joints caused by arthritis and rheumatism. This oil is also used for curing piles.
In addition, a decoction prepared from the whole Clitoria ternatea plant is employed for rinsing piles, while the juice obtained from the leaves of the plant is administered as a nasal drop to treat headaches. Moreover, the oil is used for cleaning wounds and preventing them from being infected.
An infusion prepared from the whole Clitoria ternatea plant is drunk for its tranquilizing actions, while the decoction possesses diuretic properties and is used in the form of a gargle to cure sore throats. The whole plant decoction or tisane can also be used internally for treating colds and coughs, indigestion and constipation.
Moreover, it is also used in the form of a blood purifier. The juice extracted from the petals of butterfly pea is blended with honey in equal amounts and taken internally for curing skin and liver disorders. On the other hand, when this juice is pressed with ginger root juice, it works to check excessive sweating by acting as a coolant.
However, in order to get the utmost benefit from this blend, it should be taken every morning and night for about a week. The fresh petals of this herb are boiled in water and prepared into syrups and sherbets.
It is believed that drinking these syrups and sherbets helps enhance the sperm quality and also do away with fatigue by revitalizing the body. They also work to reinforce vitality and vigour in the entire body.
The seeds and roots of this herb are dried and powdered for treating fevers. Taking everything into consideration, it can be concluded that the butterfly pea is a very useful herb. It not only helps to revegetate soil, but also offers us several health benefits.
The flowers and buds of C. ternatea as well as an extract obtained from them have various culinary uses in the native lands of this species. People in Southeast Asian use the flowers of butterfly peas in the form of a natural coloring for various foods. Then again, in Malay cuisines, people use an aqueous extract to tint glutinous rice for preparing kuih ketan and also in nyonya chang.
In Peranakan or Nyonya culinary, kuih ketan is also known as pulut tai tai. In the Kelantan region of eastern Malaysia, people add some buds of butterfly pea flowers in the pot that is used for cooking white rice to impart a bluish shade to the rice.
This specially prepared rice is served along with different side dishes. This type of meal is locally known as nasi kerabu. People in Thailand prepare a sugary blue beverage called nam dok anchan from the flowers of butterfly peas.
Occasionally, people add just one drop of sweet lime juice to this beverage with a view to enhance its acidity and change the color of the drink into pink-purple. On the other hand, people in Burma and Thailand dip the flowers of this vine in a batter and fry them.
An herbal tea is prepared from the flowers of butterfly pea and dried out lemongrass. This tea may be prepared in different colors depending on the other ingredients added to it. Adding lemon juice to this herbal tea changes its color to purple.
Chemical analysis of butterfly pea (C. ternatea) has revealed that it contains anthocyanins, flavonoid glycosides, a variety of triterpenoids, and plant-based steroids. Scientists have also isolated a form of peptides called cliotides from the portion of C. ternatea extract that is heat-stable.