Butterfly pea flower is a tea like no other – not only because of the benefits to your health, but also because of its striking deep blue colour.
- The beautiful flowers have been used in various traditional cultures for centuries as treatment for minor ailments such as swollen joints and inflamed eyes, for healthy skin and hair, and for more serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s, depression and amnesia.
If you have never heard of butterfly pea tea, or blue tea, then you are in for a real treat.
The Butterfly Pea Vine
The butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) is native to tropical equatorial Asia and is a semi-twining, perennial vine.
- “Semi-twining” means that unlike other vines that only climb, it is equally happy to grow along the ground, creating a carpet of green leaves and beautiful blue flowers, as it is scaling the trunk of a tree.
The Latin name of the plant, “Clitoria” comes from the ancient Greek word “kleitoris”.
This refers to the shape of the flower resembling female genitalia.
About the vine
Although the vine, which can grow up to 3 metres in length, can produce white flowers, butterfly pea flowers are usually a vivid cobalt blue colour with a white centre.
The leaves are oval and grow from individual stems in bunches of 3 to 4 pairs.
The plant bears flattened pods between 4 and 13 centimetres in length, containing 8 to 11 shiny, olive brown to black seeds.
- There are 35 species of Clitoria , which grow well in all types of soil from heavy clay to sand.
While they prefer moist soil, they are capable of surviving long periods of drought; a reason they are sometimes grown as high-nutrient cattle fodder.
It is also known as Asian pigeonwings, bluebell vine, blue pea, and Darwin pea.
The butterfly pea vine is a native of tropical equatorial Asia. It is a semi-twining vine with cobalt blue flowers that grows to approximately 3 metres. Not only is it beneficial to the health of humans, but it also effective for improving the condition of the soil it grows in and is also a high-nutrient cattle food.
Why is butterfly pea tea so good for you?
First of all, it promotes antioxidant activity in the body.
- Antioxidants fight free radicals which cause oxidative damage to our cells and tissues.
This damage can lead to ageing, and the development of serious conditions as such as cancer.
The magic ingredient – anthocyanins
Butterfly pea flowers contain large numbers of anthocyanins, which are flavonoids – one group of antioxidants.
- Anthocyanins are the pigments that give blue, purple and red foods their colour.
They are water-soluble and are found in some of the most nutritious food in the world, including blueberries and cranberries.
They’re linked to anti-aging, the improvement of cardiovascular health, and the prevention of diabetes, some cancers, and microbial infections.
Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, is a super antioxidant found abundantly in butterfly pea flowers. It has weight loss and fat burning properties.
Like the anthocyanins found in butterfly pea flowers, EGCG also aids in cardiovascular health.
One major benefit of butterfly pea tea is that it is rich in minerals such as
It has further been scientifically proven to have more antioxidants than its more famous cousin – green tea.
Butterfly pea tea has been found to be abundant in healthy compounds such as antioxidants, the most powerful of which are anthocyanins, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG. It has more antioxidants than green tea and is also rich in minerals and vitamins.
Could assist in weight loss
A lot of us know that green tea boosts metabolism and helps burn fat.
But did you know that butterfly pea tea is equally good at doing both?
It does this in 3 ways, by:
- raising your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body turns food into energy).
- promoting an increase in the production of urine due to its natural diuretic properties which thereby reduces water retention.
- detoxifying the body via its abundance of antioxidants – detoxification plays an important role in losing weight.
Studies show that the anthocyanins contained in butterfly pea extract stimulate healthy metabolism of fat.
The benefits of a healthy metabolism include
- better cholesterol levels
- better blood sugar regulation
- a healthy body weight.
Another powerful ingredient – EGCG
Butterfly pea flowers contain the catechin EGCG, which has similar effects on fat metabolism.
- Some analyses have found that the flowers actually contain higher EGCG content than any other herbal tea.
A recent study published in “The International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders” reports that butterfly pea tea helps fight weight gain and also fatty liver disease, which has been linked to weight gain.
Health experts have said that just 2 cups of tea a day can help burn more calories.
The abundance of antioxidants in this herbal tea cleanses the body of toxic substances (free radicals) which in turn plays an important in weight loss by clearing unwanted fats from the body.
Butterfly pea tea can help you to lose weight by increasing your metabolism, helping you to produce more urine, and by detoxifying your body. It helps prevent fatty liver disease, another contributor to weight gain.
May help maintain central nervous system
In a 2003 study, researchers studied extracts of Clitoria ternatea for their effects on
- cognitive behaviour
- depression and anxiety
The conclusion of the experiments showed that butterfly pea flowers contain nootropic, anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant and antistress properties.
And while these studies were carried out on rats, the results look promising for humans.
- Since butterfly pea extracts contain the flavonoid anthocyanin, it can also modulate the nervous system by boosting cognition and memory.
It can also help to prevent age-related neurodegeneration.
In experiments on mice, results showed enhanced cognitive function and reduction in lipid peroxidation (oxidative damage to cells) in brain tissue.
The flowers are also known to have anxiolytic properties.
Anxiolytic refers to compounds that reduce stress and anxiety, and have a calming effect on the body.
The way they achieve this is by relaxing vascular smooth muscle, which composes the majority of our blood vessel walls.
In turn, this aids blood flow thereby reducing stress and having a calming effect on the body.
- A 2011 study further confirmed that the compounds in butterfly pea extract exhibited nootropic, anxiolytic and central nervous system-depressant activity.
So, a cup of this brilliantly blue tea might be the best way to unwind at the end of another busy day.
Various experiments on rats have found that the benefits of taking butterfly tea extract (tea) include improved cognitive ability, and reduction in depression, stress and anxiety. It also has anti-convulsive properties.
Can promote healthy skin hair
Not only is butterfly pea tea loaded with antioxidants, but it has anti-inflammatory properties which benefit your appearance by reducing redness and irritation on your skin.
Furthermore, eye gels with butterfly pea extracts have been found, scientifically, to reduce wrinkles around the eyes – a reason not to throw out your used teabags.
Save them in the fridge and when required, place them over your eyes for refreshing and restorative results.
- The cobalt blue colour of the butterfly pea flower indicates that the plant is rich in anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant with regards to collagen restoration.
Collagen aids in the production of a fibrous network of cells called fibroblasts, where new cells grow, and also replaces and restores skin cells.
Unfortunately, as we age, the body produces less collagen and that leads to signs of aging such as wrinkles and thin, brittle hair.
Major decreases in collagen happen at around the age of 60, and after the completion of menopause.
Butterfly pea tea is further known to have anti-glycation properties.
Glycation takes place when sugar attaches to proteins or lipids.
- The proteins collagen and elastin make our skin look plump and healthy.
However, they can be damaged by glycation, resulting in an older appearance due to wrinkles, sagging skin and dull-looking skin.
But drinking butterfly pea tea on a regular basis benefits you by helping your body to maintain levels of all these vital compounds, thereby helping to delay the signs of aging.
An interesting note is that the butterfly pea has also been used in traditional medicine as a local anaesthetic.
A 1998 study on frogs and rabbits tested a 10% solution of butterfly pea extract on skin wounds, and while the rabbits didn’t show significant results, the way the frogs reacted demonstrated that the extract was having an anaesthetic effect.
Even better, the researchers found that the effects were almost as strong as the man-made medication, xylocaine.
- A 2012 study set out to prove the anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic claims made by traditional users of butterfly pea flowers.
It found that the taraxerol in them did have mild anaesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties on different skin wounds.
The anthocyanin in the flowers promotes hair growth through increased blood circulation, and delays the onset of grey hair.
Additionally, it strengthens the hair follicles, which, naturally, promotes hair growth.
In Thailand, families often apply blue tea to the scalp and eyebrows of babies and toddlers to encourage the growth of strong, healthy hair.
- The butterfly pea’s collagen boosting properties also help to strengthen hair and stop it from breaking.
Ancient Thai medicine not only used butterfly pea flowers to battle grey hair, but also male-pattern baldness.
Another health benefit of blue tea is its anti-stress, calmative effect. This is beneficial as stress can cause hair loss.
Drinking this blue herbal tea has a calming effect and aides in relieving stress.
In other words, not only is it a great drink for after work, but it maintains the health of your hair.
And it’s cheaper than a bottle of wine!
The antioxidant effect
It is the antioxidants in the tea that fight oxidation within the body that help with anti-aging.
Antioxidants rid the body of free radicals that enter from the environment, and are in things like air pollution, cigarette smoke, and alcohol.
Free radicals cause cell and tissue damage which can lead to signs of ageing as well as more serious conditions such as cancer.
- Antioxidants not only rid the body of free radicals, but they also help protect the cells and tissue, and even restore them once damage has been done.
To conclude, the anti-aging effects of the abundant antioxidants are probably the best reason to drink blue tea.
Butterfly pea tea contains compounds including different antioxidants which help protect the body from the ravages of free radicals. This includes helping to reduce hair loss, strengthening hair, and helping maintain levels of collagen and elastin in skin thereby reducing wrinkles and sagging skin for a more youthful appearance.
May improve brain function
Known as Ajaparita, or Shankpushpi, in India, the butterfly pea flower has been used for centuries in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as a brain tonic and memory enhancer.
In modern western medicine, substances known to boost brain performance are known as nootropics, or cognition enhancers.
- Butterfly pea flowers have nootropic properties.
In a 2001 study on 7-day old baby rats, which were fed butterfly pea extract, researchers found the rats exhibited improved retention of information as well as increased spatial learning.
This indicates the memory enhancing property of butterfly pea extract, but also shows a possible permanent change in the brain of those rats.
Acetylcholine – your brain needs it
Butterfly pea flowers contain acetylcholine, an organic chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter.
Taking acetylcholine into your body via butterfly pea tea can increase levels of this chemical in the brain.
Unfortunately, acetylcholine levels decrease with age and this is responsible for causing memory loss and other problems.
Animal studies have shown that consumption of butterfly pea tea can reverse these problems and improve brain function.
- In a 2011 study on rats, researchers found that 300 ml of butterfly pea extract was enough to produce significant memory retention in the rodents after receiving an electric shock to induce amnesia.
They also found the butterfly pea extract increased levels of acetylcholine in the brain in a similar way to the prescription drug Pyritinol.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for helping to keep the brain functioning normally. As we get older, levels of acetylcholine decline and this can lead to memory loss and a reduction in other brain functions. As blue tea has a high concentration of acetylcholine, it can boost brain function.
The “anti-” benefits
While there’s a wealth of information about other herbal teas, detailed information on butterfly pea tea is a bit lacking.
However, while there haven’t been a lot of scientific studies on this particular plant, there is sufficient information based on the same compounds in other herbal teas to provide a concise list of the myriad benefits of blue tea.
Add to this the accumulated knowledge of the cultures which have used butterfly pea flowers for centuries in traditional medicine, and the evidence is convincing.
First of all, it has anti-ulcer properties which soothe the lining of the stomach and help prevent stomach ulcers.
- The flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) in the flowers can help prevent the formation of ulcers in people who are susceptible to them if ingested on a daily basis.
Just a note, if you have, or suspect you have, ulcers, don’t flavour your tea with lemon juice.
There are also anti-asthma properties in blue tea.
- Traditionally, the flowers have been used for colds and coughs due to their broncho-dilating properties.
Moreover, in modern times the tea has been found to be useful in helping sufferers of asthma.
As butterfly pea tea helps to regulate sugar levels in the blood, it has an anti-diabetes function in our bodies.
If you drink it between meals, it will assist in keeping your blood sugar levels regular until your next meal.
Blue tea can used as an anti-inflammatory and just one cup will reduce inflammation and the pain associated with it.
Antibacterial and anti-microbial
- A 2012 study found that butterfly pea flowers have remarkable antibacterial and anti-microbial properties that are able to reduce numbers of deadly E. coli and Klebsiella, which cause food poisoning.
The compounds in butterfly pea tea are also possibly effective against Bacillus and S. aureus, bacteria that cause diarrhoea.
Blue tea’s abundant anthocyanins can help
- prevent and clear up urinary tract infections
- destroy harmful bacteria
- stop bacteria sticking to the walls of the bladder.
Anti-cancer and anti-tumour
- The flowers possess anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties thanks to the cyclotides (plant-derived proteins) they contain.
These cyclotides cause cancer cell death by disrupting cell membrane integrity, while doing no harm to healthy cells.
A recent Chinese study found that butterfly pea extract was extremely effective against lung cancer cells.
- In addition, the cyclotides may have an anti-HIV effect on humans.
Cyclotides were only discovered quite recently and are a structurally unique family of bioactive plant peptides (amino acids).
They have been shown to be effective against the HIV-1 virus by blocking the entry of the virus into healthy cells.
- The butterfly pea has anti-pyretic properties, which means it combats high body temperatures and fevers.
The way it does this is by expanding the blood vessels that run just beneath the surface of the skin thereby enabling the blood flow to ‘cool down’.
One study discovered that butterfly pea tea significantly reduced body temperature in rats. This cooling effect lasted for 5 hours after having been given flower extract.
The experiment also showed that the herbal extract had comparable effects to those of paracetamol, in pain relief medications.
Butterfly pea tea has been shown in animal studies, and in studies of traditional medicine, to have many qualities that have benefits to people. These include, but are not limited to anti-ulcer, anti-asthma, anti-diabetes, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-cancer and anti-tumour qualities, as well as the possibility of being anti-HIV.
Possible anti-diabetic properties
A cup of butterfly pea tea drunk between meals inhibits the intake of glucose from ingested food and lowers blood sugar.
- A 1990 study on rats discovered that compounds in the herbal tea had an anti-diabetic effect on the rodents.
After a 3-week period of eating extracts made from the flowers, the rats had lower blood sugar levels.
They concluded that the compounds in the butterfly pea extract inhibited the activity of 2 types of sugars: β-galactosidase and α-glucosidase.
- A 2012 study found similar results when testing 5 different types of tea, including butterfly pea tea.
It concluded that the compounds within the plants used to create the teas could be used to develop functional foods for the treatment and prevention of diabetes mellitus.
The compounds within butterfly pea tea may be of use as anti-diabetes agents due to the fact they inhibit the uptake of glucose, and also inhibit the activity of two types of sugars: β-galactosidase and α-glucosidase.
Can aid eye health
Butterfly pea flowers have been used in the traditional medicines of certain Asian countries for centuries to treat eye infections.
Primarily, this is because blue tea is high in a group of antioxidants (flavonoids) with the title of proanthocyanidins.
Imagine saying that after a few wines!!
These biochemicals boost eye health by increasing blood flow to the eyes.
By stimulating the flow of blood, filled with essential nutrients, to the capillaries of optic cells, blue tea can help
- heal blurry vision
- take care of dry eyes
- heal glaucoma.
Additionally, due to the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities of proanthocyanidins, drinking blue tea can lower the discomfort, swelling and redness associated with eye infections, such as conjunctivitis.
More eye benefits
Other claims are that the compounds in butterfly pea tea can help
- the eyes adjust more quickly to changes in light
- improve sharpness of vision
- stop the progression of cataracts
These compounds also assist in repairing damage to the retina, as well as improving night vision.
Extracts of butterfly pea flowers are used widely in Thailand in products such as eye gel.
This product keeps the skin around eyes smooth, wrinkle-free and flat.
A 2009 experiment wanted to test the effectiveness of eye gels containing butterfly pea extract.
It found that while they did have a significant antioxidant effect, the results weren’t as good as those achieved by a commercial anti-wrinkle cream used for comparison.
Blue tea is rich in proanthocyanidins, which increase blood flow to the eyes. The blood carries the nutrients that help nourish the eye and keep the eye healthy. Butterfly pea flowers contain anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties which help to clear up eye infections, improve vision, guard against glaucoma and repair damage to the retina.
Extra Benefits of Butterfly Pea Tea
While there are many benefits of drinking butterfly pea tea on a regular basis, there are many benefits with less research to support them.
Word-of-mouth from countries where the amazing herbal tea is widely drunk have uncovered these unstudied benefits, but centuries of use speak for itself. Wouldn’t you say?
Especially for women
- Traditionally, women have used butterfly pea flowers as an aphrodisiac. And they say the flowers are able to help with conception.
Women have used them to treat menstruation problems, and to clear up vaginal discharge (leucorrhoea) usually caused by oestrogen imbalance.
A host of other health benefits
Butterfly pea tea helps reduce both the severity and the stress on the body from epileptic convulsions.
Furthermore, it is restorative for people suffering from chronic fatigue.
- You can use some butterfly pea tea with a few grains of salt to steam the site of an ear infection.
Butterfly pea tea can help with headaches, and migraines.
People use it as an aid for breathing problems (asthma) and to reduce irritation in the respiratory system.
What this means is blue tea is helpful at the time of year when coughs and colds are with us.
- It has been used traditionally as an aid to digestion; a cup of butterfly pea tea drunk with or just after eating relaxes the stomach muscles thereby aiding digestion.
Because it is rich in vitamins and minerals, butterfly pea tea benefits our immune system and increases vitality, as well as enhances our mood…and why not?
Regardless of the mechanics of how it affects your mood, just knowing all the good it’s doing you must make you feel better!
But the talents of this exotically blue flower don’t stop at medical benefits.
Eat the flowers
- People use the tea widely as a food colouring agent, but the flowers themselves can be eaten as a vegetable.
Lightly battered and deep fried, they make an exotic addition to any plate.
Especially with the uncooked flowers added as a garnish.
In Thailand, where butterfly pea tea is very popular, the tea is called Num Dok Anchan
What does butterfly tea taste like?
Butterfly pea tea has a taste not too dissimilar to green tea, so you can expect a slightly grassy taste.
One thing to note is that the taste is a very mild one.
This makes butterfly pea tea a great alternative for those who find the taste of green tea too strong for their palate.
Generally steep times are 5 minutes, but for this tea, you could steep it for up to 10 minutes.
If you want to sweeten this, or any other, herbal tea, add only the smallest amount of sugar or honey.
Are there any risks to drinking butterfly pea tea?
To the average tea drinker who drinks 1 to 3 cups a day for their health, there are no risks.
However, like many other herbal teas, you shouldn’t drink butterfly pea tea if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Or, at least, check with a medical professional prior to drinking it.
Too much tea has causes nausea and diarrhoea, but these cases are rare – as are cases of allergic reactions to the plant.
How can I enhance the taste of blue tea without adding sugar?
It’s true that while this beautiful dried flower is chock full of beneficial antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, it doesn’t have a strong enough taste for some people.
You can enhance the flavour by adding a tiny bit of sugar or honey.
However, if you don’t want to add sugar (think calories), how about adding ginger, cinnamon, or lemongrass?
Or if you prefer to drink it cold, you could add mint, ginger, or passionfruit to make a very refreshing and cooling drink the whole family can enjoy.
You’ll not only strengthen the taste of the tea, but you’ll be getting the added benefits from each of those extra ingredients, all of which contain beneficial compounds of their own to aid your health and well-being.
Are there products, other than tea, with butterfly pea extract?
There sure are.
Apart from drinking the tea to keep you healthy, youthful and well, you can also try the many beauty products available featuring butterfly pea extract – thus working on both the inside and the outside of your body at the same time!
For example, you will find butterfly pea soap, face gel, shampoo and conditioner, skin toner and cleanser, beauty mask, and moisturiser.
Not forgetting that online there is an abundance of cocktail recipes featuring butterfly pea tea, along with many non-alcoholic drink recipes for children – who love the way the tea can “magically” change colour.
Does butterfly pea tea contain caffeine?
Technically a lot of herbal teas are not really “teas” at all since no part of them comes from the Camellia sinensis shrub.
Therefore, they do not contain any caffeine, like black, oolong and green tea do.
Herbal teas are like tea, however, in the way that you need to steep them in hot water to get the benefit of the antioxidants and other goodies that the leaves/flowers/stems contain.
Why does the colour of blue tea change if you add something else?
One of the aspects that makes this tea so incredibly special is its ability to change colour.
When you make butterfly pea tea, the vibrant blue contained in the flower petals transfers to the water in your teacup.
When you add other ingredients, they change the pH level of the tea, and thus the colour changes.
(pH is basically how acidic or how alkaline a substance is)
For example, the blue liquid takes on a purplish hue if you add a slice of lemon. If you add hibiscus leaves, the tea will turn a bright red almost instantly.
How about using blue tea to make ice cubes for your next party?
Certainly a conversation starter.
Will butterfly pea tea stain my teeth?
Although it might look like it would stain your teeth, it won’t. It won’t stain your teeth, tongue or clothing.
Where can I buy it?
While blue tea is very common in South-East Asia, especially Thailand and Vietnam, it is only just starting to become popular elsewhere in the world.
This means the tea is not readily available in supermarkets.
Although, you often find it available through high quality tea suppliers.
What is the difference between this tea and all the other herbal teas on the market?
All herbal teas are good for you and people have used them in traditional medicines around the world for centuries.
Herbal teas have similar properties since they all contain antioxidants.
These help protect the cells and tissues of the body from damage caused by dangerous free radicals.
But herbal teas also include their own unique chemical compounds, proteins and enzymes which might make one tea better for a particular purpose than another herbal tea.
For example, butterfly pea tea has more antioxidants than green tea and is therefore more likely to provide better protection from free radicals than green tea.
Butterfly pea tea stands out from other herbal teas in the fact that is has a deep cobalt blue colour which changes depending on what you add to it.
A splash of lemon juice will turn it into a lovely purple, while some hibiscus leaves will transform it into a rich red colour.
Also, due to the absence of caffeine and calories, butterfly pea tea, with its ‘magic colours’ is great for children.
Furthermore, you can use butterfly pea tea in other recipes, for example drinks, desserts and rice, as an all-natural colourant.
And you can eat the actual flower itself as part of a salad, or lightly battered and deep fried.
How do I make butterfly pea tea?
The same way you would make any herbal tea.
- Put a heaped teaspoon of loose leaf tea into your cup.
- Boil the kettle, but once it has boiled, leave it to cool slightly for a couple of minutes. (Using boiling water destroys all the helpful antioxidants, vitamins and proteins.)
- Pour the water into the cup and leave the tea to steep for 5 or so minutes.
The longer you leave the tea in the water, the more benefits you get.
Usually, a longer steep time strengthens the flavour.
Although as butterfly pea tea has a very mild flavour, you may not find the difference all that noticeable.
Finally, there are a whole range of natural ingredients you can add to the tea to enhance the taste.
These include honey, ginger, cinnamon, mint, and lemongrass – each with its own health benefits.
More research needs to be conducted on butterfly pea tea to fully establish all the wonderful benefits it has to our health.
However, when it comes to herbal teas, modern research usually accomplishes two things:
- It confirms what traditional medicine has known for centuries.
- It finds additional new and exciting health benefits.
One thing for sure is that the chemical compounds in blue tea are beneficial for our eyes, hair and skin.
And, don’t forget, they have more antioxidants than green tea.
There is also the colour-changing, fun aspect of butterfly pea tea. Isn’t it a great way to get children to drink it and enjoy the health benefits?
Although butterfly tea can be difficult to find, we wonder who out there is already enjoying its benefits.
How did you first discover this beautifully blue tea and what would you say is the major benefit of drinking it?
Write your comments below.