Butterfly Peas are traditional medicine, a decorative plant that attracts beneficial insects, a unique culinary herb and natural food coloring agent, a great ecological solution for various environmental problems, an important ingredient in several religious rituals, and also a great material for creative science experiments.
Botanical Name- Butterfly Pea
The botanical name of the butterfly pea is Convolvulus pluricaulis/Clitoria ternatea. The name comes from the shape of the flower that resembles the female genital part, the clitoris. The second half of the name comes from the place where it possibly originated, i. e. Ternate island, Indonesia. Butterfly pea is known by various regional names mostly because of the appearance of the flowers.
Regional Names of Clitoria ternatea
- Aparaijta/ Aparajitha: the one who cannot be defeated
- Gokarna: Shaped like a cow’s ear. Sanskrit word Go means Cow and the word Karna means Ear.
- Shankhapushpi: The name Shankhapushpi comes from its conch-like shape. Shankhapushpi syrup is a commonly used brain tonic in India.
- Cordofan Pea: The plant grows in Cordofan region in West Africa which gives it the name Cordofan pea.
- Blue Pea: Because of the blue color of the flowers, it is known as a Blue Pea.
- Asian Pigeonwings
- Kamachile: This name is used in the Philippines
- Anchusin: Korean Name
- Darwin pea
Butterfly Pea Plant Distribution
Not sure if the plant originated in Indonesia or West Africa but it is commonly grown in tropical countries in the Indian subcontinent. Later these plants were distributed to other continents Australia, Africa, and the Americas. It may not be common before here in the US but with increased globalization more and more gardeners are now growing these beautiful vines in home gardens.
Butterfly Pea Plant Benefits
Butterfly pea is an ancient traditional or ayurvedic medicine. In ancient Indian medicinal books, it is mentioned by several researchers and medical practitioners for the treatment of various diseases, to improve overall health and boost immunity.
- As a traditional medicine, Butterfly Pea is commonly used to relieve stress and improve brain function. In India, it is famously known as Shankhapushpi and is taken in the form of syrup. The dried flowers are also used to make tea for sound sleep and relieve anxiety.
- Butterfly pea leaves are used to treat mental illnesses, depression, and epilepsy. It is also used to lower blood pressure.
- It was used as an antidote for toxins for animals and humans.
- Butterfly pea is believed to treat intestinal worm infestation.
- Butterfly pea is known to control skin infections.
- Drinking butterfly pea tea improves voice quality.
Building on ancient research, modern-day researchers are trying to evaluate these health s benefits and finding promising results in animal studies.
Other than the traditional health benefits, butterfly pea plants also are widely used in the food industry.
- Butterfly pea flower extracts are safe to use as food dye that can be used to make various color-changing drinks, candies, cookies, and pancakes.
- In science experiments, the Decoction of the butterfly pea flower can be mixed with drinks of different pH levels. The liquids change color and students can observe these changes. It is a fun way to learn some science concepts using natural ingredients.
- Butterfly pea is a great forage crop for cattle in areas where not enough nutritious pasture is available. Animals prefer the taste of this plant compared to some other grasses. The butterfly pea vines are hardy, very low maintenance, and have good disease resistance. they can also be used as a cover crop and for green manure. Just like other beans and legumes, butterfly pea plants are nitrogen fixers. They improve soil quality and increase the nitrogen content in the surrounding plants. Overall it is a great ecological solution to solve many problems easily.
- Butterfly Pea is a legume. The young pods are edible but the flowers steal the show.
- The ornamental value of butterfly pea plants is unbeatable. The flowers are red, blue, violet, or white in color. I have the blue variety currently but would love to grow the red and white ones in the future.
- The bright flowers attract various beneficial insects like bees, bumblebees, and several other beneficial insects. It is of great help if you are practicing organic gardening. The plant adds so much life to the garden.
- As the flowers are shaped like a conch and also like a cow’s ear, and both these things are considered holy in the Hindu religion, the flowers are important in Hindu religious rituals.
Is Butterfly Pea Annual or Perennial?
The butterfly pea is a legume. It can be easily grown from seeds and also from cuttings of a mature vine. If you live in a tropical region with mild winters then you can grow it as a perennial but if you experience harsh winters and can’t protect the plants by bringing them indoors then you have to grow it as a perennial. Typically Butterfly Pea vines grow in USDA zones 9–12 but I live in zone 8a and in recent years we are consistently experiencing harsh spells of winter when the temperatures go down to the low 20s which is several degrees below zero for about a week or so at a time. I overwinter the plants inside an enclosed garage and they survive and come back again in the spring.
Growing Butterfly Pea Plants from Seeds
The optimal growing temperature is between 65–85 °f or 18–30 °c.
It tolerates much higher temperatures even up to 105°f or 40°c or even higher. This makes it a very good plant for beginner gardeners.
When to start seeds?
You can start the seeds indoors about 6–8 weeks before the last frost date in your region.
Germination time is about 3–5 days. Soaking the seeds in water for a day before sowing further shortens it. I prefer to soak the beans and hard seeds in water before planting because you can see the changes in the seeds. The seeds that are going to germinate swell up. If there are still some hard seeds you can keep them in the water for a day or two more. Once you see the seeds changing cover them up in a wet cloth/ paper napkin to keep them moist until they sprout.
Once sprouted the seedling grows rapidly so keep those stakes ready. I used this branch of Peachtree as support.
Soil Requirements for Butterfly Pea
Butterfly peas are not at all fussy plants. They tolerate all soil types. They grow in unused lands without any intervention. The optimal soil pH is between 5.5–8.9. To increase your chances of success you can make a good loamy starting mixture with equal parts of soil, compost, and sand/ perlite. Once the plants are well established then you can move them to the in-ground. After that, they require hardly any care.
If you plant the vine in-ground it grows much faster and produces abundant flowers.
In fact, it is a locally invasive vine and if left unattended it will fill up a lot of garden space. So you choose the spot to plant it accordingly as it will outgrow the neighboring plants.
Butterfly pea plants are drought tolerant.
I had these vines potted in two different pots. During the first year, these vines produced only a few flowers so last year which was the second year, I kept one of the pots slightly immersed in the ground. We went on a six-week-long vacation that summer. A few sprinklers took care of my garden during that period. But temperatures soared to the mid-forties during that time. The vines were watered twice a day that is very early in the morning and late evening but only for five minutes at a time. Despite the extreme temperatures, these vines stayed healthy and beautiful. Soon they loaded with tons of flowers. When I came back from the vacation, these unruly vines were standing out prominently among the rest of the suffering plants. Many bees, bumblebees, and several other pollinators were buzzing near it. The vine was so humongous that it was a difficult and time-consuming task to bring it inside. I decided to take a chance and left it out the whole winter. I underestimated Texas winter. I was hoping that the vine will come back to life as the temperatures rise but it died. I still have another vine potted so I don’t have to start over. But the lesson learned is that butterfly pea vines can take high temperatures but do not do well in freeze.
Let’s talk about fertilizers. I strictly use organic fertilizers and homemade compost for my plants. While preparing potting mix I add a mixture of blood meal and bone meal to the mix but despite that, the plants can have other deficiencies. For example, potassium deficiency in soil can prevent the plant from blooming. You can add good quality compost that includes banana peels or wood ash. I frequently use azomite which is volcanic ash. It is like a natural multivitamin for plants.
Butterfly Pea Plant Description
The young vines are thready with green stems but as the plants mature the stems become woody. You can use these woody stems to propagate these vines from cuttings. Just insert these cuttings into the soil and they grow into new plants.
The leaves are ovate in shape. About 5–6 pairs of leaves develop on lateral branches of stems. The leaves are delicate. They contain about 14–20% nitrogen and are hence commonly used as fodder for cattle. Butterfly pea plants are tolerant to pests and diseases. Sometimes it can get fungal infections or nematodes but very rarely these plants require any pesticides.
Flowers and Seeds
The flowers develop when the vines mature to about 50% in about 3–6 months. At first, the vines produce only flowers but as more and more flowers are produced the pollinators flock in and the seedpods develop. I didn’t see many pods during the first year as the vine was in a small container. But during the second year, I collected a lot of seeds. The seeds are like pods of beans and contain about 10–12 seeds per pod. When the pods mature you can harvest them and dry them. If the pods are not harvested they burst open and release the seeds in the neighboring areas. There they can germinate and give you more volunteer plants. I couldn’t clean all the seeds when I removed the vine this year, I see there are still several pods lying around where the pot was. I think I’m going to get some volunteer plants this year.
Gardeners mostly grow butterfly peas for their ornamental value. The flower can be blue, purple, red, or white in color. There could be more colors but blue and white are the most common ones. And blue must be the most popular one. The green calyxes are removed and the blue petals are used in food preparation.