Known by many different names including blue-pea, bluebellvine, cordofan pea, Darwin pea and Asian pigeonwings, butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea L.) is a plant from the legume family. Its origins can be traced to tropical Asia, and through the centuries it was widely distributed in the West and East Indies, and subsequently in Central and South America, India and China.

Butterfly pea is a climbing vine with small funnel-shaped flowers of different colors, including pink, white and dark blue. The flowers resemble female genitalia; hence, the botanical name.

Various parts of the butterfly pea plant are used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. The fresh root is used in Ayurveda to help ease conditions such as tuberculosis, ulcers, and asthma. The root juice is ingested to help eliminate phlegm. The leaves are made into poultices and applied to swollen joints. The flower is also popular in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines as an edible food dye. The petals are used as a garnish salads, ice cream and soups.

According to tasters at Bon Appétit magazine, butterfly pea tea has a woody and earthy flavor that is reminiscent of green tea. However, what’s most unique about this exotic tea is its ability to change colors. Due to its pH level, which varies depending on the pH of the soil in which it was grown, the drink will change color depending on the pH of any ingredient added to it.

When first brewed, the beverage is a deep, midnight blue. Add a squeeze of lemon or any acidic liquid and it changes to a rich violet. Add hibiscus flowers and the drink turns bright red. In Asia, particularly in Thailand and Vietnam, butterfly pea tea is consumed regularly.

Butterfly pea vine can be grown in zones 9-10.

While many people enjoy it mainly for its colorful appearance, drinking butterfly pea tea may have certain health benefits as well. According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, butterfly pea is highly valued in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for centuries as a memory enhancer, nootropic, antistress, anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, tranquilizing and sedative agent. Studies have also noted the potential benefits of butterfly pea extract:

It may have antidiabetic properties: A 2015 animal study published in the Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science has found that extracts from butterfly pea flower were comparable to the diabetes drug glibenclamide.

It has potential effects against stress and anxiety and may be particularly effective against depression, stress, anxiety and seizures, and also improve cognitive behavior.

It helps curb hyperlipidemia, a risk factor for heart disease. In combination with medication, it helped decrease dietary cholesterol absorption and prompted its excretion from the body.

It helps bring down fever. This effect lasted for five hours after administration. These findings were published in a 2004 article in the journal Phytomedicine.

A study found that petals of the butterfly pea flowers contain flavonol glycosides, mainly kaempferol, myricetin and quercetin. Other chemical constituents contributing to the tea’s pharmacological effects include phenols, saponins, anthocyanins, flavanols and triterpenoids.

Since it’s not made from the Camellia sinensis plant, butterfly pea tea is naturally caffeine-free, making it a good choice for people with caffeine sensitivity.

Butterfly pea tea can be enjoyed hot or cold. If you'd like to try like a refreshing iced drink to quench your thirst on hot days, here’s the recipe:


2 cups boiling water

6 teaspoons butterfly pea tea

Juice of a medium lemon

Honey to taste


  1. Add hot water to the leaves and cover to retain the heat. Let steep for several minutes or until the water is a deep shade of blue.
  2. Stir in lemon juice and add honey to taste. Serve with ice.

While there are no side effects reported for the butterfly pea flower and dyes made from it, the book Home Remedies notes that herbal preparations using the leaves and powdered seeds of the plant may lead to severe nausea and diarrhea. If this should occur when you drink the tea, stop and consult your physician immediately.

If you have a health condition or are taking certain medications, it’s advisable to get approval from your doctor before drinking butterfly pea tea. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid consuming this beverage due to a lack of studies about its effects for these groups.

The flavor of this tea is reminiscent of green tea, woody and earthy. But because it's not made from the Camellia sinensis plant, it has no caffeine.

To grow butterfly pea vine from seed, first nick or file the seeds, then soak overnight in room temperature water before planting. They can be sown directly in the garden when the soil warms in the spring. Space 3-4 inches apart. Or start seeds indoors 12 weeks before warm weather arrives. Germination takes 15-20 days.