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Known for its deep blue-purple color, butterfly pea flower is a commonly used ingredient in cocktails, teas, and beauty products.
But in recent years, researchers have looked to butterfly pea flower for more than just its vibrant color—it may also provide significant health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.
From skin improvements to weight loss to cardiovascular health, the potential health effects of butterfly pea flower are as dazzling as its hue—let’s take a closer look at its nutrients, benefits, and how to start using it.
What Is Butterfly Pea Flower?
Butterfly pea—also known as Asian pigeonwings, bluebellvine, blue pea, cordofan pea, Darwin pea, or its scientific name, Clitoria ternatea—is a plant native to Asia whose flowers are used for culinary and cosmetic purposes.
Due to its vivid blue color, many manufacturers use butterfly pea flowers as a natural dye for textiles, beverages, beauty products, and some foods.
It’s most often consumed in herbal teas or cocktails—as the acidity of the drink changes, the flower can change from blue to purple.
In addition to providing a pleasing color, the antioxidants found in butterfly pea flower contribute to its various health benefits.
Nutrients in Butterfly Pea Flower
Butterfly pea flowers are virtually calorie-free, containing no sugar, fat, or protein.
A brewed cup of butterfly pea flower tea contains about five calories and is caffeine-free.
Although devoid of vitamins and minerals, butterfly pea flowers are rich in antioxidants, including anthocyanins—a pigmented compound that also provides blueberries, red onions, grapes, and other foods with their blue hues and health benefits.
The top antioxidants found in butterfly pea flower are:
- Delphinidin, a type of anthocyanin known as a tertanin that is linked to reductions in inflammation.
- Kaempferol, a flavonoid compound that may reduce cancer cell growth.
- p-Coumaric acid, a phenolic acid that has been studied for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory activity.
Gallic acid, a phenolic acid with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects that has been studied for its potential role in reducing adipocyte (fat cell) size.
The butterfly pea plant also contains cyclotides—tiny proteins that form connective tissues in plants and exhibit anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Health Benefits of Butterfly Pea Flower
1. Reduces Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Because it’s rich in antioxidants, butterfly pea flowers are thought to fight inflammation and oxidative stress—the buildup of harmful molecules called free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage our cells, protein, and DNA.
As oxidative stress and inflammation are two driving forces of many chronic diseases, butterfly pea flower may help to prevent or slow disease progression.
In an animal study published in Antioxidants, mice who received butterfly pea flower had reduced markers of oxidative stress.
This included reductions in malondialdehyde (MDA)—a highly inflammatory molecule that is a byproduct of lipid peroxidation (when free radicals attack and oxidize fats).
2. Weight Loss
Research has suggested that butterfly pea flower may be helpful for losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight—likely due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
In a cell-based study in the lab, butterfly pea flower extract inhibited adipogenesis—the growth of new fat cells—and enhanced lipolysis in adipocytes, the breakdown of fat for energy.
While this is promising, we don’t have studies in humans that have looked at the effects of butterfly pea flower on body weight.
However, researchers have looked at how anthocyanins affect weight, finding that these antioxidants have anti-obesity effects.
For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials published in Nutrients in 2021 found that anthocyanin supplementation for less than four weeks significantly reduced BMI (body mass index) in non-obese people.
3. Skin Health
Antioxidants are typically beneficial for skin health—both when used topically or consumed in foods.
This is likely one reason why people in some Asian countries—especially Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand—anecdotally consume butterfly pea tea for its anti-aging qualities.
Butterfly pea flower extract has been studied for its role in inhibiting the activity of collagenase—an enzyme that degrades collagen, a protein essential for skin structure, protection, and elasticity.
In a cell-based study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2018, a water extract of butterfly pea flower protected skin cells against UV-induced oxidative stress, which could be beneficial for fighting skin aging from sun damage.
4. Heart Health
Butterfly pea flower has exhibited many cardioprotective effects, including reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, improving cholesterol and lipid profiles, reducing blood pressure, and attenuating vascular dysfunction.
In a 2021 trial published in Biology, 16 overweight and obese men consumed a high-fat meal followed by 1g or 2g of butterfly pea flower extract or nothing.
The participants in the 2g group had reductions in serum triglyceride and free fatty acid levels six hours after the high-fat meal, in addition to increased antioxidant activity.
While this study did not measure longer-term effects of butterfly pea flower on lipid levels, a study in mice did.
Published in August 2022, this study found that six weeks of supplementing mice with a butterfly pea flower kombucha reduced LDL and total cholesterol, triglycerides, and markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.
However, it’s possible that some of the effects came from the fermented qualities of the kombucha tea, rather than solely the butterfly pea flower.
5. Blood Sugar Regulation
Lastly, butterfly pea flower may have some blood sugar-regulating effects.
In a 2018 study, 15 healthy men consumed five beverages at different times: sucrose water, 1g of butterfly pea flower extract in water, 2g of butterfly pea flower extract in water, sucrose plus 1g of butterfly pea flower extract in water, and sucrose plus of 2g of butterfly pea flower extract in water.
The participants’ plasma glucose and insulin levels were suppressed after drinking butterfly pea flower extract when it was mixed with sucrose, which would ordinarily spike blood glucose.
The consumption of butterfly pea flower extract on its own did not increase or decrease blood glucose levels, but this study suggests that consuming it with a sugar-rich meal could lessen the impact on blood glucose.
How to Consume Butterfly Pea Flower
Butterfly pea flower is most commonly consumed in tea form, and can be purchased at many common retailers—a good choice is the PICKNATURE Organic Blue Butterfly Flower Loose Leaf Tea.
You can add 1 teaspoon of the dried flowers to 1 cup of hot water, steeping for 10-15 minutes before straining out the flowers.
Butterfly pea tea can be consumed hot or iced, and many people add lemon juice or honey to increase its flavor.
Adding lemon or any citrus will turn the tea from blue to purple due to the acidity acting on the tertanin compounds in the plant.
A traditional recipe in Vietnam and Thailand called nam dok anchan combines butterfly pea flower tea, sugar, and lime for a beautiful beverage reminiscent of a purple lemonade.
FAQs About Butterfly Pea Flower
What Are the Side Effects of Butterfly Pea Flower?
Butterfly pea flower is generally considered safe when consumed in moderation.
Some people report some side effects of nausea, stomach pain, or diarrhea after consuming butterfly pea flower, but there is no available research on its side effects.
Butterfly pea flower is likely more safe when consumed in tea form (as opposed to extract form), as the amount is more easily controlled and it’s difficult to consume too much.
If you’re wanting to consume butterfly pea flower in extract form, speak with your healthcare provider first if you have any underlying health conditions or are pregnant or breastfeeding, as the effects are not well-known.
What Does Butterfly Pea Flower Taste Like?
Butterfly pea flower is generally described as tasteless or mildly floral.
Some say it is slightly sweet and earthy, reminiscent of chamomile or green tea.
How Does Butterfly Pea Make You Feel?
Drinking butterfly pea flower tea may make you feel more calm—but it could be due to the calming effects of drinking warm beverages.
Although some people anecdotally state they feel less stress or happier after drinking it, there are no studies indicating that butterfly pea alters mood.
Is Butterfly Pea a Psychedelic?
No, butterfly pea flower is not a psychedelic—although its vivid blue-purple coloring may make you think otherwise.
- Butterfly pea flower is a vibrantly colored plant from Southeast Asia that is commonly used in herbal teas, cocktails, and beauty products.
- It is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which are associated with reduced oxidative stress, weight loss, blood sugar regulation, and improved cardiovascular and skin health.
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