Blue elegance in gastronomy and tea culture – butterfly pea flowers

March 15, 2024

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Many cultures have a tradition of drinking tea. Plus, who doesn’t love a good cup of tea on cold days or after a tiring day. There are many types of tea to choose from, the most popular being green, black, oolong, ginger, white, rooibos and herbal. 

If you are new to drinking tea, you may not be familiar with many types of unique teas such as butterfly pea flower tea. Still, once you get to know it, you probably won’t forget it because of its fascinating colour change.

Apart from the change of colour, it is also interesting for another reason. Butterfly pea flower is packed with beneficial substances, including antioxidants, or pigments, which give natural colour to food and drink. With its stunning blue petals and remarkable versatility, this flower has captured the attention of herb enthusiasts, cooks and health-conscious people around the world. This article will go in depth to give a better understanding of where and how this tea is produced, as well as of its nutrients, potential benefits and side effects.


Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) is a plant native to Southeast Asia. This type of tea is best known for its vibrant colours, as the tea has a distinctive blue hue when steeped in water. It was discovered and named by the German botanist Johann Philipp Breyne during an expedition to the island of Ternate in Indonesia in 1800. He was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and both were concerned with the ideas of natural selection and the evolution of species.

The flowers of this plant are shaped like female genitalia, hence the Latin name of the genus Clitoria. As the second part of its name suggests, it originated on the island of Ternate, from where it has spread to Southeast Asia and other continents. Its natural habitat is usually on the edges of forests and near riverbanks. However, it can also be a houseplant and makes a beautiful decorative plant to grow on fences or sturdy trellises. In addition, it is also beneficial as a legume because it fixes nitrogen in the soil. It thrives best in moist and neutral soil, but can also tolerate dry periods. The plant has distinctive features that make it unique. It has up to 6 metres long vines with elliptical leaves, but the most striking part is the deep blue flowers. Once picked, the flowers are used in a variety of culinary and wellness applications, including teas, herbal remedies, and vivid food dyes. Due to its rich cultural history and diverse uses, butterfly pea flower has become a popular and iconic botanical plant in many Asian cultures.

The natives of Ternate began using butterfly pea in Ayurvedic medicine. The use of the flower in their medicinal practice was due to the many health benefits the plant is said to have, though more on that later. The main means used was distillation into tea, which allowed users to ingest it easily. The tea offers beneficial effects and takes on its colouration, giving butterfly pea tea an interesting blue or purple colour. The colouring alone has made butterfly pea tea a household name in modern society, although the cosmetic and health benefits have cemented the tea’s status.

When it comes to the butterfly pea flower’s ability to change colour, acid is the key. This plant turns hot water with a pH between 4 and 8 into shades of blue that range from deep cobalt to a fascinating azure. Just a splash of citric acid and the water will change again, this time to a bright purple. 

Health benefits of butterfly pea: 

1.It is packed with anti-inflammatory substances

Historically, butterfly pea tea has been considered a natural remedy for the symptoms of many ailments, including fever, inflammation, arthritic pain caused by collagen loss, and diabetes, to name a few. (1)

Being rich in antioxidants, butterfly pea flowers can help protect against oxidative stress and free radicals, two major factors contributing to aging and the development of diseases. (2),(3)

These antioxidants include:

  • Kaempferol: This antioxidant has been studied more extensively than others and exhibits several benefits. Test-tube studies show that kaempferol can kill a limited amount of cancer cells. (5)
  • p-Coumaric acid: This antioxidant is somewhat less well known, but early studies suggest that it is an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral all-in-one compound. These effects suggest that it can aid in resisting diseases and maintaining overall health. (6)
  • Delphinidin 3,5-diglucoside: This antioxidant is the least known of the three antioxidants found in C. ternatea, but has been linked to improving immune function and destroying colon cancer cells. (7)

One study from 2021 focused on the use of C. ternatea extract to revitalize the skin of study subjects. Following standard scientific procedure, the subjects were divided into a test group and a control group, with the latter receiving a placebo instead of the extract. The results showed that topical application of C. ternatea extract increased skin hydration by 70% compared to the placebo group. Such rehydration restores the elasticity and look of the skin and prevents signs of aging such as wrinkles. (8)

In terms of hair health, another study was conducted 9 years earlier, in 2012, to see if C. ternatea was an effective hair growth stimulator. The study compared C. ternatea with minoxidil, a common and moderately successful hair loss treatment available in most pharmacies. The results suggest that C. ternatea is slightly more effective than minoxidil. (9)

These studies confirm that C. ternatea has potential as a supplement for hair and skin health, but more research is needed before this theory is brought to the same level as other products. However, the antioxidants in butterfly pea flower enhance these abilities, as they can prevent the damage that leads to premature hair loss and wrinkles. That said, these early studies have merit. (10)

2. It has natural antimicrobial and immunity-boosting effects

Butterfly pea flower is believed to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects thanks to the compounds such as p-Coumaric acid and the delphinidin glucoside. Consuming this plant and tea made from it can also help against viruses and infections. (11)

Research suggests that butterfly pea tea may help encourage healthy digestion and gut health, which is strongly linked to immune system function, and protect the digestive tract from cramps, nausea, heartburn and ulcers. It can also potentially aid detoxification and the liver’s ability to remove harmful waste from the body, as it acts as a mild laxative and natural diuretic.

In addition, Clitoria ternatea has been found to have anthelmintic properties, so it is sometimes used to treat parasitic infections.

Another immune-boosting effect of this plant is its ability to boost respiratory health. It can help remove mucus and fluid from the lungs and airways and reduce irritation and inflammation, helping treat bronchitis, colds and coughs. It is also believed to be useful in dealing with asthma and allergies. Clitoria ternatea flower was one of the most used ingredients in various remedies used to treat respiratory problems in Ayurvedic tradition. (12)

3. It promotes cognitive health

Some research, including in animals, suggests that Clitoria ternatea may increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain, a substance beneficial for concentration, memory and other cognitive tasks.

Thanks to its potential to help protect against oxidative stress, butterfly pea flower may be useful for slowing age-related memory loss and for general mental health support, including protection against anxiety, the effects of chronic stress, depression, and ADHD. (13) 

4. It may help protect the eyesight

The antioxidants contained in Clitoria ternatea may protect the eyes from free radical damage, including sun damage, irritants and the effects of a poor diet. It can also help increase blood flow to the eyes.

Clitoria ternatea extracts and eye gels are used in some cases to treat vision-related problems such as glaucoma, damaged retinas, blurred vision, poor night vision, and tired/dry/strained eyes. (14) 

5. It boosts skin and hair health

When applied topically, butterfly pea flower can prevent signs of premature skin aging such as loss of elasticity, fine lines and uneven tone and texture.

There is evidence that it can increase skin hydration and defend against sun damage thanks to antioxidants such as polyphenols. Because it has anti-inflammatory effects, it can also help treat rashes, swelling, itching and dermatitis or allergies that affect the skin. (15)

Another benefit is its ability to help maintain a healthy scalp and hair. It is believed to help supply additional blood to the hair follicles and reduce inflammation that could impair hair growth. As a result, it can be found in some shampoos, conditioners and other hair products designed to reduce hair greying and thinning. (8)

6. It helps with metabolic functions

Clitoria ternatea may help reduce hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol, aid other cardiovascular functions, and stabilize blood sugar levels, as shown in some animal studies. Also, some studies show that it may protect against symptoms related to diabetes and insulin resistance through its ability to ward off oxidative stress. (16)

Like other plants high in antioxidants, it is possible that butterfly pea may potentially aid in weight loss and protect against obesity with its general metabolic benefits, although more research is needed on this topic. (17)

7. Fight against diseases

In addition to all these other benefits, butterfly pea is one of the plant species, if not the only one, that produces specific peptides called cyclotides.(16) Although medical studies of the effects of cyclotides in this plant are still preliminary, there is evidence that they are toxic to cancer cells and that they exhibit properties that fight HIV, various forms of cancer and other harmful diseases. In addition to its powerful cyclotides, it is also anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and stimulates blood flow throughout the body, which can help alleviate symptoms that manifest with harmful diseases. (17) 

How to use butterfly pea?

Clitoria ternatea is most commonly consumed as a tea or extract, which is made from the leaves and flower petals. In Malaysia and Singapore, it is used to naturally colour rice in dishes such as nasi kerabu, pulut inti, kuih tekan and pulut tai. Butterfly pea flower tea has been a popular drink in Southeast Asia for centuries. When served hot, it is often combined with lemon and honey, making it a popular after-dinner choice and a common refreshment at spas, known in Thai as nam dok anchan. When served cold, butterfly pea tea can be flavoured with ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger, honey, mint and passionflower.

What does butterfly pea flower taste like? It is described as a delicate floral flavour with a hint of sweetness, similar to chamomile tea. One cup of butterfly pea tea contains approximately five calories or less and contains no caffeine, fat, protein, carbohydrates and sugar.

How to make butterfly pea tea at home:

Use about 1–2 teaspoons of dried leaves and petals for a 250 ml cup of tea. Pour very hot water over the dried leaves and petals and leave them to infuse for about 3 to 5 minutes. Watch as the water colour begins to turn a deep blue. If you want the tea to turn purple instead, you can squeeze a bit of lemon or lime juice into it. 

Traditionally, butterfly pea tea is savoured as part of a calming meditation that began with a specific intention. The point is to watch the colours of the tea change as you imagine yourself growing and changing.

In addition to making tea from it, try using it in cocktails or as a natural food colouring, for example in desserts. More modern uses of the petals include making new cocktails, blue bath bombs and blue ice cream. (18)


Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) flower is a plant used to make a herbal tea or nutrient-rich extract. The plant itself is native to Southeast Asia and is rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols and anthocyanins, which give it its bright blue colour.

Beneficial effects include anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, protection of the brain, skin and eyes, aiding digestion and supporting respiratory and metabolic functions.

Striking in appearance, steeped in tradition and packed with potential health benefits, butterfly pea flower is more than just a pretty face in the botanical field. Its versatile use in culinary art and wellness makes it an exceptional ingredient for those who want to incorporate a touch of elegance, culture and health into their lives.

We offer quality butterfly pea tea in the form of dried petals.

butterfly pea kratom expert

Dilip Murthy is an expert who has contributed to several studies on butterfly pea. He is currently with the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).


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  2. Protective Role of Ternatin Anthocyanins and Quercetin Glycosides from Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea Leguminosae) Blue Flower Petals against Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-Induced Inflammation in Macrophage Cells. | Sigma-Aldrich. (n.d.). Merck | Germany.
  3. Ternatin and improved synthetic variants kill cancer cells by targeting the elongation factor-1A ternary complex - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
  4. Inhibitory effect of Clitoria ternatea flower petal extract on fructose-induced protein glycation and oxidation-dependent damages to albumin in vitro - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
  5. Kaempferol: A Key Emphasis to Its Anticancer Potential - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
  6. p-Coumaric acid and its conjugates: dietary sources, pharmacokinetic properties and biological activities - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
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  14. The antioxidant activity of Clitoria ternatea flower petal extracts and eye gel - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
  15. 5α-reductase inhibition and hair growth promotion of some Thai plants traditionally used for hair treatment - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
  16. Clitoria ternatea L. petal bioactive compounds display antioxidant, antihemolytic and antihypertensive effects, inhibit α-amylase and α-glucosidase activities and reduce human LDL cholesterol and DNA induced oxidation - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
  17. Butterfly Pea Flower ( Clitoria ternatea Linn.) Extract Ameliorates Cardiovascular Dysfunction and Oxidative Stress in Nitric Oxide-Deficient Hypertensive Rats - PubMed. (n.d.). PubMed.
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