On a Caribbean cruise, I went off on the proverbial “three-hour tour.” Unlike Gilligan, I did get back to the ship, but it was an adventurous day. After a rough small-boat trip from St. Kitts to Nevis Island, we boarded a bus to drive inland to the Nevis Botanical Gardens. We were greeted at the garden with a stunning blue punch, which the garden employees told us was made from butterfly pea flowers that grew on the site. This was my first taste of the flower.
As clouds scudded across the sky, we were guided through the exotic garden with its amazing plants. Most importantly, we were shown the abundant, blooming butterfly pea vine, which clambered over a long pergola displaying its astonishing blue blossoms. We were rushed through the tour, back to the bus, and down to the coast, then to the boat, and finally back to the cruise ship. The storm that had been brewing all day was visibly coming down on us as we raced back to St. Kitts.
We were soaked by waves coming over the rails as the canvas cover flapped frantically in the wind. The crew seemed worried, watching the sky and waves, so we
were grateful we didn’t suffer the fate of the S.S. Minnow. I still recall the adrenaline-laced adventure and the lovely blue flower that both colored and flavored that memorable day.
I love creative cocktails, so one evening I checked out Dry Point, a Las Cruces distillery, to sample their concoctions. To my surprise, they had a cocktail featuring the butterfly pea flower. The Mariposa is a mix of gin, butterfly pea flower syrup, lime juice, and soda. The cocktail’s color was unmistakable. The dramatic blue-violet color makes the butterfly pea flower popular among mixologists. The butterfly pea flower is an ingredient known for its brilliant blue hue and dramatic color changes to deep purple or a rich red when the pH level is altered.
While I discovered the butterfly pea flower (Clitoria ternatea) in the Caribbean, the plant originates in Asia. Its colorful, flavorful, and healing properties have been recognized for centuries, as this plant has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicines to enhance memory, among other attributes. This herbal tisane, popular throughout Asia, is also known as Asian pigeonwings and blue tea. The visually stunning tea tastes earthy and woody, similar to some green teas.
Tisanes and teas brewed with butterfly pea flowers are caffeine free. In addition to using butterfly pea flowers to brew a delicious herbal tea, you can add it to other drinks, such as a latte and lemonade.
I was not surprised to discover the use of this exotic flower in cocktails, tisanes, and teas is trending. However, I was unaware of the many cosmetic and health benefits associated with the butterfly pea flower.
Cosmetic manufacturers boast of butterfly pea flower’s effectiveness in everything from skincare serums to hair mists and shampoos. Butterfly pea flowers are commonly used as a tea, but also may have benefits when used topically.
According to studies, it has been shown to increase skin hydration and may slow down skin aging. It also may help treat skin irritation, redness, and allergies.
In addition, butterfly pea flowers may have an impact on hair as it increases blood flow to the scalp, strengthening hair follicles and reducing the growth of gray hair.
Potential Health Benefits
Butterfly pea flower is also trending in health and diet circles. The flowers are rich in anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial compounds. Studies suggest that butterfly pea flowers may help hydrate skin, promote weight loss, and reduce blood sugar levels.
Some research suggests these compounds may prevent cancer cell growth and boost immune function. One antioxidant in the flower may be useful in treating glaucoma, blurred vision, and tired eyes. Butterfly pea flowers have also been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels through its ability to inhibit glucose intake. A very small study showed increased antioxidant levels and reduced blood sugar and insulin levels after drinking a butterfly pea flower tisane.
Butterfly pea flower tea also may be useful for treating the digestive system. Its anti-inflammatory properties soothe stomach muscles, easing nausea and indigestion. Like many teas that have a diuretic nature, butterfly pea flower tea may aid in weight loss. This flower is believed to reduce irritation of the lungs and to help in draining excess fluids, which helps with colds and coughs.
Like any herb, butterfly pea flower is generally considered safe when used in moderation. Some people have reported issues like nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. If you have underlying health conditions or are taking any medications, you should talk with your doctor before using butterfly pea flowers or other herbal products. More research is needed to establish potential benefits.
The butterfly pea flower is strong in its physical qualities, rich in history and tradition, and may prove beneficial to our health. This flower is not alone in these attributes. Lavender, chamomile, rose, hibiscus, and a host of other herbs also contain many of the beneficial compounds found in butterfly pea flowers.
Growing Butterfly Pea Flowers
As with other beneficial flowers, we can grow butterfly pea flowers, a member of the bean family, in our gardens. The seeds are available online at several seed companies. The USDA shows a native clitoria (Clitoria mariana), which grows in dry rocky woods and can be found in New Mexico. However, this wildflower may not have the same properties as the tropical butterfly pea flower. Perhaps I’ll try to grow this tropical vine as an annual in the garden next summer. I always enjoy a new garden challenge.
This frost-tender vine can be grown as a perennial in USDA zones 9 – 11, which are generally frost free, or treated as an annual in colder zones. It can be planted in pots and brought indoors when cold weather arrives. Electrifying blue blooms make a brilliant blue textile and food dye, which is approved by the FDA, and tea. This vine is considered heat-loving, requires abundant sun, and is drought-tolerant when established.
How could we have known, when we were sipping punch in the Caribbean, we had stumbled upon a magic elixir? This makes the discovery of this flower and the experience even more memorable.
Story by Jackye Meinecke | Adobe Stock Images
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2023
Posted by LasCruces.com