Over the past few years, a blue-colored tea has been heavily marketed here in Thailand. Blue butterfly pea tea is touted for its medicinal qualities and is becoming increasingly popular in this part of the world. I decided to take a look at these claims and found that there was a growing body of research into the health benefits of the plant.
If you are unfamiliar with blue butterfly pea, this article may be of interest. We will look at the health benefits of the plant and how to use it in order to make the most of it.
What is Blue Butterfly Pea?
Blue butterfly pea goes by a number of other common names. These include Asian pigeonwings, butterfly pea, blue pea, butterfly pea flower and cordofan pea. Known scientifically as Clitoria ternatea, the plant is an evergreen climbing plant and a member of the Fabaceae family.
Whether this vine is native to Asia or South America is unclear but these days, it is cultivated in various tropical parts of the world including Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Sri lanka and tropical parts of South America.
The plant gets its scientific name – Clitoria because of the resemblance of its flowers to the female genitalia. the flowers are beautiful and it is actually grown in many parts of the world for ornamental purposes. It is also used to boost soil quality and for re-vegetation in previously barren areas such as the coal mines of Australia.
While the plant is going through something of a modern renaissance, it has been consumed for centuries in Asia. It has also been used traditionally for many years in the Indian medicine system of Ayurveda to improve brain health as well as Chinese medicine to relieve stress.
Clitoria ternatea is a perennial climbing plant that can grow to around 2.5 meters in height. It can be found growing in open woodlands, forests, bush lands and river banks in many tropical parts of the world. The plant can easily adapt to a range of different soils from heavy clay to sandy soil and requires very little care to cultivate.
The beautiful flowers can vary in color from a deep shade of blue or mauve to lighter shades of blue with yellow and white on the inner base. The plant’s typically flower between June and November each year. The flowers have long pods surrounding between six and ten seeds. The plant bears an edible fruit while the pods are also consumed when soft and young.
Health Benefits of Blue Butterfly Pea
Blue butterfly pea is chock-full of healthy antioxidants and flavonoids. A number of studies have started to reveal that the plant holds considerable potential for a variety of common health issues including inflammation, digestive healthy and pain relief.
As well as its internal benefits, the herb may also help treat the skin and the hair and could also have an impact on emotional well-being.
The following are the main health benefits of blue butterfly pea.
Heart Health and Reduced Cholesterol
According to research, blue butterfly pea may help boost cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol and suppressing triglycerides. Hyperlipidemia is a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis and researchers have been examining the effects of certain plants on hyperlipidemia.
One animal study, published in 2010, found that Clitoria ternatea combined with another member of the fabaceae family – Vigna mungo L had a similar effect on total cholesterol and triglyceride levels as a commonly prescribed statin drug. (1)
The researchers found that both the root and the seeds of the plant helped reduce triglycerides. However, only the plant’s root was effective in reducing cholesterol levels. These results are promising and suggest that blue butterfly pea may have the potential to boost cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Reduce Blood Pressure
Blue butterfly pea may also benefit the heart because of its effects on high blood pressure – another major risk factor in heart disease.
The plant has traditionally been used in Asian medicine as a natural diuretic. There is very little evidence to support this use apart from a study published back in the 1960s. (2)
It is believed that butterfly pea helps reduce blood pressure by promoting the expulsion of water from the blood. this in turn reduces blood mass and may reduce blood pressure. Despite its traditional use as a diuretic aid, there is little concrete evidence that it is effective and more research is necessary.
To Reduce Inflammation and Treat Asthma
Blue butterfly pea has traditionally been used to lower inflammation. These anti-inflammatory effects are probably a result of the antioxidant compounds found in the plant.
It may help relieve common inflammatory issues including arthritis and rheumatism while it could also help lower inflammation throughout the body.
One animal study found that blue butterfly pea may be beneficial for people with asthma. In the study, mice were treated with an ethanoilic extract of the plant and researchers found that it had an anti-asthmatic effect. (3)
In fact, the researchers found that the herbal extract was just as effective in suppressing inflammatory leukocytes in the animals as a commonly prescribed asthma drug – Dexamethasone.
The authors of the study suggested that the anti-asthmatic effects of the plant are likely conferred by the presence of flavonoids and saponins.
Blue butterfly pea might also have the potential to improve the health of the human brain in various ways. The herb has traditionally been used in India as a brain tonic to improve various cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
Animal studies on the effects of the plant have found that it has a wide range of potential neurological benefits. However, it must be stressed that the majority of studies have involved animals.
One study, published in 2001, found that an aqueous extract of Clitoria ternatea improved memory function and learning in rats fed with the extract for 30 days. (4)
This study confirmed the findings of another animal study published in the previous year. In this study, the researchers found that root extract was more effective than extracts taken from the plant’s leaves or stems. According to the researchers, the most significant active ingredient related to improved memory was a compound called acetylcholine. (5)
Another study, published a few years later. found that rats given an aqueous extract of the plant had an increase in acetylcholine levels within the hippocampus. According to the researchers, the significantly increased levels of this compound were responsible for the cognitive improvements demonstrated by the animals. (6)
Stress and Anxiety
Blue butterfly pea tea is traditionally drunk in parts of Asia to help calm the mind and ease feelings of anxiety or stress.
While there is little scientific evidence for its effectiveness, one study found that Clitorea ternatea possessed moderate anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in rats. The researchers also found that butterfly pea also had anticonvulsant and anxiolytic effects on rats. (7)
The results so far appear promising but further studies are needed to gauge just how effective the herb could be for humans.
Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels
According to research, blue butterfly pea may be a useful, natural remedy for keeping blood sugar levels under control. This suggests that the herb may be beneficial for people with diabetes or those at risk of the disease.
Several laboratory studies have found that Clitoria ternatea contains certain enzymes which help inhibit intestinal glucosides and pancreatic α-amylase. (8)
While the studies are at an early stage, the evidence suggests that blue butterfly pea might be a useful natural treatment and effective preventive herb for diabetes.
May Help Treat Fever
Studies have also found that blue butterfly pea has anti-pyretic properties meaning that it can help soothe fevers or high body temperature. According to research, it can effectively ease fevers by expanding the blood vessels beneath the skin’s surface allowing blood to flow more readily to areas where it can cool.
One study looked at the anti-fever effects of a methanol extract of the herb on body temperatures in rats induced with fever. The researchers found that blue butterfly pea extract helped significantly reduce body temperature in the animals. This effect lasted for some 5 hours following administration of the herb. (9)
The researchers found that the herbal extract had comparable effects to those of paracetamol – a common anti-fever prescription medication.
Apart from the well-known benefits listed above, blue butterfly pea may also have a number of other potential uses. However, these benefits have yet to be put to the scientific test. nevertheless, blue butterfly pea has also been used traditionally to treat the following conditions :
- aches and pains
- as a digestive aid
- for eye problems like conjunctivitis
- for the hair
- to treat the skin
How to Use Blue Butterfly Pea
Blue butterfly pea is available in various supplementary forms including capsules and powders. However, it is most commonly drunk in the form of a healthy tea.
How to Make Blue Butterfly Pea Tea
Add a tablespoon of the fresh or dried butterfly pea flowers to a mug of hot water and allow it to steep for at least 10 minutes.
Strain the tea and throw away the flowers. The resulting tea is a beautiful, vivid colored liquid with a number of excellent health benefits. You can add a little honey or lemon to taste but most people find the drink tasty enough on its own. Adding lemon will actually change the color from blue to a beautiful purple.
In Thailand, many people add lemongrass to the tea to give it a little more flavor.
Blue Butterfly Pea In Cooking
In Thailand and some other Southeast Asian countries, the flowers are sometimes added to fresh salads. They are also sometimes dipped in a batter then fried and eaten as a side dish.
The plant is also used as a natural food dye. The flowers get squeezed to extract the blue color. This can then be combined with ingredients like coconut milk to make attractive deserts.
The petals are also added to white rice while the rice is cooking to give this plain dish a more attractive appearance. (If you like blue food of course).
Blue butterfly pea is the common name for a plant, known scientifically as Clitoria ternatea. The plant has long been used in parts of Asia as a traditional remedy for a variety of medical issues from digestive health and pain to skin health and anxiety.
A number of recent scientific studies suggest that blue butterfly pea has certain potential health benefits. Studies have found that the herb might have heart health benefits, improve cognitive function, prevent diabetes and help relieve fever.
It is available in several supplementary forms and is commonly drunk in the form of a tea.
Blue butterfly pea is likely safe for most people but you should speak with your doctor if you have any concerns.