Butterfly Pea, (Clitoria mariana), aka Atlantic Pigeonwings, is a pretty little flower that I recently learned about. It isn’t something that I have found growing nearby, but it is a subscriber requested topic that I found to be very interesting. Butterfly Pea is of course a member of the Pea family.
First off, if you know anything of linguistics, you might have giggled at the scientific name. Clitoria is indeed from the Greek word kleitoris, referring to the shape of the flower, which resembles female genitalia. Story has it that mariana might refer to a woman Linnaeus (the man who has named A LOT of the plants we use today) was courting at the time that he named this plant. Really makes you question the names of everything if you ask me!
Despite the name, Butterfly Pea is not actually popular among butterflies. It is rather named for the flower’s expanded banner that looks like a butterfly when in bloom.
The plant has 1-3 showy flowers (purple in color) that are up to 2 inches long. It has a characteristic banner, wing, and keel floral structure of flowers which is common in the Pea family, but the banner is expanded, concave, and lined with dark lavender markings. Later in the season, the plant may produce cleistogamous flowers, which self fertilize and don’t fully form like regular flowers. Fruit is a flattened legume with 2 parts that twist upon opening.
Butterfly pea is a perennial vine that grows up to 3 feet long, but twines along the ground rather than climbing. Like many plants in the Pea family, it has trifoliate leaves (groups of 3 leaves like poison ivy). The leaves are broadest at the base and taper to a point. They also have stipules, or wings of leafy tissue at the base of the leaf. The entire plant is hairless.
Butterfly pea likes dry, rocky, wooded areas and is uncommon in the southeastern United States and is not in any of the herbal books I have on hand. It is however very popular online, so you should have a pretty easy time finding someone to buy it from if you are in an area where it isn’t easily found, if at all. Always check your sources though, not every herb shop is made the same.
Butterfly pea is high in antioxidants and supports eye and skin health. In Ayurveda medicine, it is used to enhance memory and boost brain power. Know in Asia for promoting “dark, lustrous, thick hair” via the bioflavonoid content of the plant. It is also used in some instances to enhance night vision, prevent cataracts, for overall skin health by increasing collagen and elasticity in cells, for brain function and memory sharpness, stimulating hair growth, reducing stress and depression, anti-aging, antidepressant and much more. It is also approved by the FDA as a color additive to food.
When you google Butterfly Pea, you will find a lot of disputed information, mainly circulating around ‘blue tea’. Please do more research than reading one blog post before wild crafting, ingesting, or doing anything else with this plant and every other plant you read about on the internet. While I may provide some information, it is up to you to do your diligent research and come to your own conclusion on a thing. I will say that there are usually articles against plants in an effort to steer you away from natural remedies and into the arms of Big Pharma, but that is up for you to decide.
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Emma Lee Joy