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Butterfly Blue Pea: What Even Is It?

03/14/2022 | 6 min. read

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Butterfly blue pea sounds rather odd at the outset. What is it? A vibrant, winged insect? Nope, not at all. A fancy legume? Well, sort of. 

If you are a tea connoisseur, or at least keen on the happenings in the herbal tea world, then there’s a good chance you’ve heard of butterfly blue pea. For those less inclined to take notice of the vast world of herbal blends, you’ve probably never heard of it. 

The butterfly blue pea refers to a plant that is native to equatorial Asia. It has many names, like Asian pigeonwings, the Darwin pea, or the fancy scientific name—Clitoria ternatea

But the butterfly blue pea offers the best description. This plant gets its name from the luminous and vibrant blue (indigo) flower it produces. However, this perennial plant isn’t just nice to look at; it yields some pretty amazing benefits. 

Let’s take a look beyond the aesthetics and see all that this plant has to offer when it comes to health. 

A Closer Look at Butterfly Blue Pea

The butterfly blue pea plant belongs to the legume family. The plant itself yields elliptic, obtuse-looking leaves and grows as a vine. But its flowers are an absolute marvel. This beautiful perennial can be easily spotted thanks to its brilliant blue hue laced with subtle yellow markings.

The butterfly blue pea features long, flat pods that house up to ten seeds in the fruit. These seeds are edible. 

The butterfly blue pea is revered in some parts of the world. It is considered a holy flower in India and is regularly used in ceremonial worship, like puja rituals. 

Aside from its religious importance, butterfly blue pea flowers are regularly used to naturally dye fibers in many Asian countries. They are even used as a natural food coloring agent that is popular in drinks and cocktails. 

The Butterfly Blue Pea in History

However, the most intriguing element to the butterfly blue pea is its use in traditional medicine, specifically Ayurveda alternative medicine in India. 

It was commonly used as a nootropic herb for cognitive support, such as a memory enhancer. The extracts from the plant also have historical use as an antibacterial and even as an anthelmintic (used to kill parasitic worms). 

Today, the butterfly blue pea is still used in herbal medicines and remedies. 

Some Butterfly Blue Benefits

This abundance of phytochemicals and prevalence of cyclotides give rise to the butterfly pea’s many intriguing health benefits. Let’s look at some of the most popular benefits this blue beauty offers.  

Blue, Beautiful, and Nutrient-Rich

The butterfly blue pea plant has a rich phytochemical composition, particularly flavonols and anthocyanin. 

In fact, the anthocyanin compounds (ternatins) give it a blue hue. The blue flowers even contain a flavonol called quercetin, which is well studied as an immune booster

The health benefits of this vibrant plant are also thanks in large part to its abundance of antioxidants.

Antioxidants play a pivotal role in the fight against oxidative stress and cell damage wrought by free radicals. In effect, antioxidants neutralize free radicals. 

Thankfully, the butterfly blue pea plant is antioxidant-rich. For example, butterfly blue pea contains an anthocyanin compound known as p-Coumaric acid. Research of this potent antioxidant has shown it to have antimicrobial effects.  

The Butterfly Pea Could Help Alleviate Swelling

These powerful phytochemicals also carry some anti-inflammatory effects. 

Under normal conditions, inflammation is simply a response to illness, irritants, and injury. It is part of the body’s normal immune response to fight off pathogens and disease. But this is typically acute. It comes and goes with the illness or injury. 

Chronic inflammation poses a greater problem. This type of inflammation hangs around. The causes for this vary greatly. But, chronic swelling can exacerbate and contribute to a whole host of severe conditions. 

Thankfully, the butterfly blue pea has the right tools to help alleviate redness and swelling. In fact, studies have shown the protective role of anthocyanins like ternatin play regarding inflammation. This blue beauty is chock-full of anthocyanins.  

Butterfly Blue and Blood Sugar

One of the most intriguing benefits associated with the butterfly blue pea plant is its potential effect on blood sugar levels. Chronically high blood sugar levels are a common metabolic disorder, also known as diabetes. 

Complications can range from fatigue to more serious issues like nerve damage. Also, diabetes is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So, getting it under control has big implications for heart health.

Although the studies are limited, some research suggests that the butterfly pea flower might have acute effects on the glycemic response

The study found that participants who drank beverages containing butterfly pea flower extract showed a reduction in blood sugar and insulin levels. Once again, researchers believe that the prevalence of antioxidants found in the butterfly pea plant might hold the key.  

Butterfly Blue Pea as a Nootropic Herb

As stated above, one of the main historical uses of the butterfly blue pea plant was as a nootropic herb. In popular terms, nootropics are known as brain boosters. In short, they are believed to provide cognitive support, like enhancing memory. 

While its use in traditional medicine for cognitive support is well known, the research to support the actual efficacy of nootropics is still being done. The potential benefits of nootropics once again rest on the abundance of phytochemicals found in plants like the butterfly blue pea.  

How to Utilize Butterfly Blue Pea

Before you start chowing down on the next butterfly blue pea plant you see, it is essential to understand all its consumer uses. In fact, it is commonly used in cosmetics. 

For example, it is not uncommon to find butterfly pea extracts in skincare serums and hair products. Interestingly, some researchers believe that butterfly pea extract may increase skin hydration. 

But you generally won’t find butterfly pea petals sitting on a salad. Instead, the most popular use of the butterfly pea flower is as an herbal tea — often called “blue tea.”

There are all sorts of recipes to be found for herbal teas, but most call for one teaspoon of dried flowers to one cup of hot water, then steep and enjoy in the manner you choose. If the flavor is an issue, honey or a splash of lemon juice may do the trick.  

Is Butter Blue Pea Safe?

Yes, drinking butterfly pea flower tea is generally safe for most people. But, if you notice any ill effects (e.g., nausea or stomach issues), it may be best to avoid them. People tolerate herbal products in different ways.

The Bottom Line

The butterfly blue pea plant goes by many names, from the Asian pigeonwings to the Darwin pea. But, the thing that sets it apart from other legume-bearing plants is the vibrant blue hue of its flowers. 

The butterfly blue pea has some impressive benefits when it comes to health, thanks to its plethora of antioxidants. 

While it may certainly win a beauty contest, it is clear that beauty isn’t the only thing that this wonderful little perennial brings to the tea table.

Sources:

Healthy Directions Staff Editor