Clitoria ternatea, also known as butterfly pea, is a leguminous vine plant belonging to the Fabaceae family.
Clitoria ternatea is native to several countries in Southeast Asia and Australasia where tropical or equatorial type of climate is predominant. The plant can be found in Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia, Maldives, etc.
Later, it has also been introduced to Australia and Africa. Similar looking other species of the genus Clitoria can be found in Brazil (Clitoria fairchildiana), Ecuador (Clitoria brachystegia), United States (Clitoria fragrans and Clitoria mariana), and Peru (Clitoria moyobambensis and Clitoria woytkowskii).
Clitoria ternatea, an herbaceous perennial plant, grows as a vine or creeper, and flourishes in moist neutral soil. Its solitary flowers are generally deep blue in color, mostly with a white patch towards the center. Some varieties of Clitoria ternatea produce white, pink or violet flowers. The flowers can measure about 4 cm long and 3 cm wide, and yield flat, beans-like seed pods, about 5 cm to 7 cm long, with 6 to 10 seeds in each seed pod.
Clitoria ternatea is grown as an ornamental plant or as a home garden plant that needs very little care. Being a leguminous plant, its roots have root nodules capable of nitrogen fixation. A genus of gram-negative soil bacteria Rhizobium, attached to the root nodules of Clitoria ternatea in an endosymbiotic association, converts atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia and adds nitrogenous compounds to the soil, and improves soil fertility.
In Southeast Asia, the flowers of this blue pea vine are used as an ingredient to color food items. The young or tender beans (seed pods) are edible and used in various cuisines, and medicinal preparations.
According to the ancient texts on traditional and herbal medicines, especially in Ayurveda and other Indian and Asian systems of natural medicines, various parts of Clitoria have therapeutic value.
Tests conducted on animals showed that methanolic extract of Clitoria ternatea roots have properties of nootropics, which are memory enhancers and cognitive enhancers. Therefore root extracts of this mussel-shell climber are used as food supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods to improve mental functions such as concentration, memory power, motivation, cognition, etc.
Another property of the extracts of the roots of Clitoria ternatea is it is an herbal medicine with anxiolytic properties. So it can be used as an antipanic or antianxiety agent for the treatment of anxiety and related psychological and other symptoms.
Some other uses of the root extracts of Clitoria ternatea are their utility as an antidepressant, and as an anticonvulsant that can be used for the treatment of epileptic seizures.
Clitoria ternatea root extracts are also reported to have been used for treatment of whooping coughs, and the extracts from the white-flowered plants are used for the treatment of goiter.
According to the Doctrine of Signatures, a common philosophy of the herbalists from ancient times, herbs that resemble human body organs can be used to cure diseases affecting such organs (though modern science treats it as a superstition). Based on this doctrine, and because of the resemblance of Clitoria ternatea flowers to the human female vulva, it has been used to cure sexual problems like infertility, sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, to control menstrual discharge, and also as an aphrodisiac.
The shape of Clitoria ternatea flowers and its resemblance to the human female body part has inspired some of its names, including the generic part of the name ‘Clitoria’. In some Indian languages, it is named after a seashell, for instance it is called Sankhupushpam in Malayalam, and Sangu Pu in Tamil.
Some of the commonly used names of Clitoria ternatea are: blue pea vine, butterfly pea, mussel-shell climber, and pigeon wings in English; fula criqua in Portuguese; bunga telang in Malay; dok anchan in Thai; bunga telang and bunga biru in Bahasa Indonesia; aparajita in Hindi and Bengali; gokarna in Marathi; nagar hedi in Kannada; and sankhapushpi, mohanasini, vishadoshaghni, aparajita, shwetanama, Vishnukranta, ashwakhura, etc. in Sanskrit.