Clitoria Ternatea – Blue Butterfly Pea Flowers Benefits
What is Butterfly Pea (Clitoria Ternatea)?
Are you suffering from low energy or brainpower? Feeling stressed? Anxiety? Can’t sleep? Can’t conceive? Constipated? Poor eyesight? Losing your hair or premature greying? Is your skin losing collagen?
Butterfly Pea is known to help.
Also known as Asian Pigeon Wings, Blue Bell Vine, Blue Pea, Cordofan Pea and Darwin pea, ‘Butterfly Pea’ (Clitoria ternatea) is an amazing brain boosting herb native to tropical equatorial Asia.
A traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, Clitoria Ternatea has been consumed for centuries as a memory enhancer, brain booster, anti-stress and calmative agent.
Known for its luminous indigo colour, Butterfly Pea has traditionally been used as a vegetable in cooking, to colour deserts or to make a strikingly vibrant coloured tea.
Butterfly Pea is jam-packed full of health promoting antioxidants, flavonoids and peptides and has shown considerable promise in animal studies as a natural remedy for a range of health complaints.
Many beauty products have also been derived from Butterfly Pea because of the effects of the flavanoid, quercetin has on skin and hair.
First let’s take a look at the reputed health benefits of Butterfly Pea, before looking at the available evidence.
Health Effects of Butterfly Pea (Clitoria Ternatea)
Butterfly Pea has been ascribed many health benefits in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, many of which have been supported with contemporary clinical research.
The herb shows promise in studies for its brain boosting effects and its wide spectrum of neurological benefits including helping with depression, anxiety and reducing fever.
In studies to date, Butterfly Pea has shown to act on several key systems of the body:
- The Nervous System – Butterfly Pea has a calming effect on the brain
- The Digestive System – Butterfly Pea is an antiemetic (anti-nausea), antidypsetic (anti-indigestion), mild-laxative and cholagogue (stimulates flow of bile from liver)
- The Circulatory System – Butterfly Pea is a haemostatic (helps stop bleeding) and a blood purifier
- The Respiratory System – Butterfly Pea acts as an expectorant and has shown to reduce the irritation of respiratory organs, useful in treating colds, coughs and even asthma.
- The Urinary System – Butterfly Pea is a diuretic, helping promote normal urination and can be used for dysuria (difficulty urinating)
- The Reproductive System: Butterfly Pea is reported to be spermatogenic, aiding in normal sperm production
- The Integumentary System – Pre-maturing ageing is often a problem of the skin. Flavonoids present in Butterfly Pea have been found to boost collagen production, increasing the skin elasticity.
Butterfly pea is one of the few plants on earth that contain cyclotides, peptides that have shown to possess anti-HIV and anti-tumor properties, while certain cyclotides have been shown to be toxic to cancer cells.
In fact, while more studies are needed recent Chinese research suggests butterfly pea is very effective against certain lung cancer cells.
Researchers have also found that a powder made from the ground-up butterfly pea leaves can enhance cognitive ability, improving memory and brainpower.
Other studies in India found that butterfly pea improves the body’s levels of acetylcholine – an important neurotransmitter – vital for communication within your brain.
Acetylcholine decreases significantly as we age and Butterfly Pea has been found to stimulate its production.
Clitoria Ternatea for Hair Loss
In ancient Thai medicine, Butterfly Pea herb has been used for centuries to treat male pattern baldness and premature greying. A key ingredient in Butterly Pea is Anthocyanin, thought to increase blood flow in the scalp and sustain and fortify hair follicles.
Clitoria Ternatea for the Brain
In animal studies, Clitoria Ternatea has shown promise for its memory enhancing effects, with a wide spectrum of neurological benefits (anti-depression, anxiolytic, anti-pyretic) indicated, although more research is needed.
In rats, between 50 to 100mg/kg of Clitoria Ternatea water extract was found to increase memory over the course of 30 days.1
Larger doses of the ethanolic extract (up to 300mg/kg) have also indicated some efficacy, with the extract of the root apparently more potent than the leaves or stem extract. 2
One in vivo study of Clitoria Ternatea suggested improved cholinergic function after oral administration of Clitoria Ternatea, suggesting the key active compound that enhances the memory is acetylcholine. 2
An additional study also suggested increases in acetylcholine localized to the hippocampus using 100mg/kg of a Butterfly Pea water extract.3
This study assessed both neonatal and adult rats and found hippocampal acetylcholine increases of 130% and 262% from baseline values, with the highest efficacy in older rats.
In electroshock stressed mice (inducing cholinergic amnesia) a higher degree of memory retention was seen with extracts of Clitoria roots.2
Butterfly Pea for Anxiety
Clitoria Ternatea has shown to possess moderate anxiolytic and anti-depressive effects. Butterfly Tea was was also able to reduce the biological impact of stress on rats when taken at 400mg/kg, in a study on stress-induced ulcers. 4
High doses of Clitoria Ternatea are also thought to be adaptogenic. 4
While more research is needed, Butterfly Pea appears to possess stress reducing effects.
Butterfly Pea for Diabetes
A series of in vitro studies on carbohydrate enzymes discovered that Clitoria inhibited the intestinal glucosidase enzymes (IC50 of 3.15+/-0.19 mg/ml) against intestinal sucrase (IC50 4.41+/-0.15 mg/ml) and pancreatic alpha-amylase (IC50 4.05+/-0.32 mg/ml).5
The study presents data from five plant-based foods evaluating the intestinal α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase inhibitory activities and their additive and synergistic interactions.
The study concludes that Butterfly Pea could be useful for developing functional foods by combination of plant-based foods for treatment and prevention of diabetes mellitus.
Preliminary research also suggests that Clitoria Ternatea is healthy for the liver and possibly beneficial for diabetics via its ability to inhibit glucose intake.
Butterfly Pea for Heart Health
In one study of induced hyperlipidemia, Clitoria Ternatea was able to suppress triglycerides and total cholesterol (at 500mg/kg) to a similar extent as the drugs statin atorvastatin (50mg/kg) and Gemfibrozil (50mg/kg). 6 The benefits on triglycerides were seen through the activation of lipoprotein lipase (LPL).
Both Butterfly Pea seeds and the root extract were found to reduce triglycerides, however only the root was able to reduce total cholesterol, suggesting the herb may have some positive effects on cardiovascular health.
The findings of this study suggest that Butterfly Pea, in combination with another herb Vigna mungo (Fabaceae family), may have significant antihyperlipidemic effects.
Butterfly Pea for Hypertension
Clitoria Ternatea has been used traditionally as a diuretic, which has been confirmed in animal studies but not investigated further. 10
Butterfly Pea is thought to boost the evacuation of water (micturition), which diminishes blood mass thereby lowering hypertension. There are also suggestions this diuretic effect aids quick but generally transitory weight loss.
Butterfly Pea for Fever
Clitoria Ternatea is thought to bring down fever (anti-pyretic) by expanding the blood vessels just beneath the skin, which increases blood flow where it can be more easily cooled.
In one study, the methanol extract of Clitoria ternatea was evaluated for its anti-pyretic potential on normal body temperature and yeast-induced pyrexia in albino rats.
An extract of Butterfly Pea at doses of 200, 300 and 400 mg/kg produced significant reduction in normal body temperature and yeast-provoked elevated temperature in a dose-dependent manner. The effect extended up to 5 hours after administration.
The study suggested the anti-pyretic effect of the extract was comparable to that of paracetamol (150 mg/kg body wt), a standard medicine prescribed for fever. 7
Butterfly Pea for Inflammation
Clitoria Ternatea may have beneficial effects for asthmatics. In one mouse study, an ethanolic extract of Clitoria Ternatea has shown to possess anti-asthmatic effects. 8
In this experiment, there was no noted difference in the effects from between 100, 125, and 150mg/kg bodyweight.
Clitoria Ternatea was equally effective as the drug (Dexamethasone 50mg/kg) in suppressing leukocytes and Eosinophils.
Safety and Toxicity of Butterfly Pea
Studies assessing oral toxicity of doses up to 3000mg/kg bodyweight failed to notice any significant toxicity in Butterfly Pea. 9
Butterfly Pea as a Food
In Southeast Asia, Butterfly Pea is used as a natural food coloring. In traditional Thai cooking, butterfly pea flowers are squeezed for their blue extract, which is then mixed with coconut milk and other base ingredients to naturally color Thai desserts in blue and purple. ‘Nam dok anchan’ is a syrupy and refreshing indigo-blue drink commonly consumed in Thailand made with butterfly pea flowers, honey and sugar syrup.
In Burmese and Thai cuisines, the flowers are also dipped in batter and fried. Butterfly pea flower tea is made from the ternatea flowers and dried lemongrass and changes color depending on what is added to the liquid, with lemon juice turning it purple.
In Malay cooking, an aqueous extract is used to colour glutinous rice for ‘kuih ketan’ and in ‘nyonya chang’.
In Kelantan, east Malaysia, locals add a few buds of this flower in a pot while cooking white rice to add a bluish tint to the rice known as ‘nasi kerabu’.
How to Prepare Butterfly Pea Tea?
Aside from its numerous health properties, a cup of Butterfly Pea tea every day can help reduce fatigue and bring about a sense of calm due to the herb’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
To make tea from Butterfly Pea flowers:
Simply steep 5-10 flowers, fresh or dried, in a cup of hot water, let sit 15 minutes.
When there is no color left in the petal, strain the liquid and discard the flowers. You will be left with an amazing indigo coloured broth.
Butterfly-pea flower tea commonly contains dried lemongrass, which can be added during steeping to improve flavor.
The tea can also be consumed with some drops of lime juice to create a sweet ‘n’ sour flavor and turn the luminous indigo tea a deeper purple color.
Tip: Mix the tea with fuchsia roselle hibiscus and the tea will turn a bright red color.
- Rai KS, et al. Clitoria ternatea (Linn) root extract treatment during growth spurt period enhances learning and memory in rats. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. (2001)
- Taranalli AD, Cheeramkuzhy TC. Influence of clitoria ternatea extracts on memory and central cholinergic activity in rats. PharmBiol. (2000)
- Rai KS, et al. Clitoria ternatea root extract enhances acetylcholine content in rat hippocampus. Fitoterapia. (2002)
- Jain NN, et al. Clitoria ternatea and the CNS. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. (2003)
- Adisakwattana S, et al. In vitro inhibitory effects of plant-based foods and their combinations on intestinal glucosidase and pancreatic-amylase. BMC Complement Altern Med. (2012)
- Solanki YB, Jain SM. Antihyperlipidemic activity of Clitoria ternatea and Vigna mungo in rats. Pharm Biol. (2010)
- Evaluation of antipyretic potential of Clitoria ternatea. L. Boominathana, Subhash C.Mandala
- Taur DJ, Patil RY. Evaluation of antiasthmatic activity of Clitoria ternatea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. (2011)
- Taranalli AD, Cheeramkuzhy TC. Influence of clitoria ternatea extracts on memory and central cholinergic activity in rats. Pharm Biol. (2000)
- Piala JJ, Madisso H, Rubin B. Diuretic activity of roots of Clitoria ternatea L. in dogs. Experientia. (1962)