Butterfly Pea: The Color-Changing Tropical Tisane Tea

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One of the things I like about living in the tropics is that life is synchronous with nature. For a while I took this for granted — and it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to explore the mountains and forests of the island where I live that I appreciated the easy access we have to herbal plants such as lemongrass, turmeric, oregano, moringa, and the one that everyone’s been raving about lately: butterfly pea.

The butterfly pea, as you can guess, is named after its butterfly-like blooms that range from a beautiful deep blue to a paler hue. Its botanical name is Clitoria ternatea and it is known by a wide range of common names in different tropical countries such as blue ternate, Aparajita, Asian pigeonwings, blue pea, Darwin pea, cordofan pea and many more variations.

It is native to tropical African and Asian countries and is believed to have originated in the equatorial portion of Asia. It has a long history of being widely used for traditional medicine and culinary purposes in those countries. In temperate climates dried butterfly pea flowers are sold at a premium price to make herbal tea, but here in the tropics we have it growing almost wild in many of our gardens.

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A flower of the butterfly pea vine in the garden. Image: Ganesh Balasubramanyam

I grew up in a family that’s big on herbal medicine and practices. My mother’s side of the family spent half of their lives living in the mountains, so the herbal hacks they learned in their childhood trickled all the way down to the present time, and we still benefit a lot from it. There is an abundant presence of tropical herbal plants even in the heart of our city.

My grandmother regularly drinks turmeric tea, and my parents, aunts, and uncles from both sides of my family use the butterfly pea as their regular tea of choice. It took me a while to follow their steps, however. I have always been a coffee enthusiast, and as a writer and artist, I relied a lot on caffeine to keep me awake and in high spirits. The downside: coffee made me feel anxious and jittery most of the time.

That’s when I started taking interest in these blue flowers that were always present in our kitchen and were whipped into teas to be drunk by my parents. I am a naturally curious person, so I did the first thing I always do whenever I have a question: I researched it. Naturally, the first thing that came up was its benefits as a herbal tea. The butterfly pea isn’t only wondrous because of its magical color-changing abilities — it’s because of the health benefits we get from it.

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Washing the flowers in preparation for making the tea. Image: Tamanna Rumee

A lot of research is being done into the health benefits of butterfly pea tea. Whilst most of the testing has so far been done on animals, some human trials are underway too. Although researchers have not yet come up with anything conclusive, proponents of butterfly pea tea believe it may have the following benefits:

1. It is rich in antioxidants and may slow down the aging process.

The butterfly pea contains many anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants that may help our bodies fight sun damage, inflammation, and slow down the process of skin aging, as well as improve skin texture.

It can also greatly improve our hair health, by strengthening our follicles and helping prevent hair fall and damage. It is well infused with anthocyanin, an antioxidant that is known to boost cardiovascular health.

2. It may help to regulate digestion and promote healthy weight loss.

As someone who has had her fair share of digestion problems, I was glad to hear about the digestive benefits that it was suggested that butterfly pea flower tea would provide. It is believed the antioxidants present help to relax our stomach muscles to aid digestion. It is also thought to prevent the presence and growth of worms in our guts. It acts as a detoxifier, cleansing our system from impurities and wastes, as well as spiking up and regulating our appetite.

3. It may help to regulate blood sugar levels and relieve diabetic conditions.

Aside from helping to smooth the digestion process, it is thought that butterfly pea flower tea may possess the ability to regulate sugar absorption into our bloodstream. The abundant presence of phenolic acid and phenolic amide antioxidants may help boost insulin secretion and glucose metabolism, all while fasting.

4. It may help fight the formation of cancer.

Butterfly pea flower tea also contains substances that could have properties for fighting all types of cancer. It is known to contain quercetin, a substance thought to help fight off activities that can potentially cause breast cancer.

It also contains peptides called cyclotides, which are thought to have anti-tumor properties, and may fight off cancer cells by penetrating through them, inhibiting their growth.

5. It may help promote healthy eyesight.

Having a productive life as a writer and artist comes with the downside of spending much of my time in front of a computer. This worsened my eyesight through the years, and when I discovered this possible benefit, I was certainly glad to know that by drinking butterfly pea flower tea I may in some way be combating it.

For the most part, the butterfly pea flower tea is a great way to prevent discomfort, redness, and swelling of the eyes. It contains proanthocyanidins which are believed to enhance the quality of our eyesight. It is also thought to help preserve the structures of our visual organs, lessening the threats of eye conditions such as glaucoma.

How to Make Butterfly Pea Flower Tea

Preparing and making this tea requires no fuss at all — all you need is filtered water and some fresh, washed flowers. Simply boil the water, let it cool slightly off the boil, and then add in 5-7 flowers, stir, and enjoy the mesmerizing blue oozing into the water. Strain out the flowers and then leave it to cool until it is a drinkable temperature.

Ta-da! You now have your butterfly pea flower tea. But that doesn’t mean you can (or should) stop there, you can also add lemon or honey to spice its flavor up. Fun fact: adding lemon or lime produces the tea’s magical transition from blue to purple! It’s the change in pH of the tea from the addition of the citric acid that makes it change color.

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The color of the tea changes from blue to purple when lemon is added. Image: Nha Van

Serve this warm before meals, or cold after meals. It makes a lovely iced tea. Consuming it after you eat will greatly help your digestion process and give you a nice quality sleep.

For me, butterfly pea flower tea has been a gamechanger. On top of the many benefits it may be providing for my health, it also contributes to the regulation of mood levels. Switching from caffeine to this tisane tea has certainly made me feel a lot calmer and composed, as opposed to the palpitations and anxiousness that drinking coffee gave me.

They say beauty primarily comes from the inside out, and one of the cheapest and guilt-free ways to do that is by drinking this wondrous blue tea. While it has yet to be proven as to exactly what extent it can help cure and prevent the most malevolent diseases out there, it sure is a great way to invest in your body’s health, especially with the world crises surrounding us right now.

Header image: Photoongraphy

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