Healthy Eating Tips

Butterfly Pea Flower Is an Antioxidant-Rich Ingredient That Offers Benefits Way Beyond Turning Your Drink Blue

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/happy_lark
You'd be hard pressed to find a prettier ingredient than butterfly pea flower, a plant native to South Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia. In the wild, it's a gorgeous, Georgia O'Keefe-style flower (its scientific name is Clitoria ternatea because it looks like that part of anatomy). In drinks, it packs near mystical powers that go beyond simply changing its aesthetic to blue (more on that later). In general, myriad butterfly pea flower benefits make it worth hunting down.

"This is a beautiful plant with a wide range of uses—from agricultural to medicinal, nutritional and otherwise," says herbalist and holistic health practitioner (and host of Well+Good's YouTube series Plant BasedRachelle Robinett. "Which is, frankly, the case with so many plants in the world. [We're] only beginning to understand and test or study the active compounds in them." Fair.

So we did a little bit of investigating to get clear on butterfly pea flower benefits. Below, find out what we learned, then get your digital shopping cart ready for options to buy.

4 butterfly pea flower benefits to know about

1. It's filled with anti-inflammatory compounds

Butterfly pea flower is deeply rich in antioxidants, says Robinett. That means it can help your body fight back against the damage caused by free radicals, like inflammation and signs of aging in the skin. It's particularly rich in anthocyanin, a type of antioxidant also found in blueberries and red wine that is well-known for fighting inflammation and boosting heart health.

2. It could help with cognitive function

Robinett says that butterfly pea flower is a natural nootropic, which means that it can potentially help improve cognitive function. One 2015 review found that butterfly pea flower may offer benefits in boosting learning and memory, although more clinical human trials are needed to make this conclusive.

3. It's good for your skin

Butterfly pea flower makes sense as a refreshing spa beverage (I was once served a glass following massages in Thailand) because it has bonafide beauty benefits thanks to all of those antioxidants. In fact, some studies have shown it to be a helpful addition in eye wrinkle treatments and in reducing redness and irritation, too.

Looking for other beneficial herbs? Robinett reveals some natural collagen-boosters in this episode of Plant Based:

4. It changes color (in a good way)

The most intriguing aspect of butterfly pea flower as an ingredient is that it's subject to change color based on pH balance. Adding something like lemon juice will purple-ify the drink, while playing with other ingredients can zap it red. The bright hue and versatility makes it a great natural food coloring option, Robinett says. "I have to hope we can evolve to using plant compounds as coloring agents rather than chemicals," she says. "I mean, plants just are unicorn food."

How to add butterfly pea flower in your life

1. DavidsTea Magic Potion Satchets, $9

DavidsTea's Magic Potion lives up to its name. This fun and vivacious potion comes in individual satchets, and incorporates fruits like raspberries, blackberries, and apple for a fresh-to-the-last-drop taste. To use them, pop a bag in a cup of water for one or two minutes and serve hot or cold.

Shop Now: DavidsTea Magic Potion Satchets, $9

2. GiveOrBuy Butterfly Pea Flower 1.75 Oz - Organic Dried, $13

You can also buy the ingredient in dried flower form, to be repurposed in myriad ways. This too can be strained to make a healthy, brilliantly colored brew, or it could be repurposed as a natural form of food coloring.

Shop Now: GiveOrBuy Butterfly Pea Flower 1.75 Oz - Organic Dried, $13

3. B'lure Flower Extract - 3.4 Fl Oz Bottle, $8

If you're less invested in flavor and more interested in dressing up your cocktail or lemonade, you could go simpler with this botanical extract. A few drops and anything you wish will turn a brilliant new shade.

Shop Now: B'lure Flower Extract - 3.4 Fl Oz Bottle, $8

So clearly, butterfly pea flower offers some nice potential benefits, and it's a decidedly fun ingredient, as well. "In the case of butterfly pea flower, it appears to be a good friend to humankind and worth sipping if you get the opportunity," Robinett says, adding that the more potent forms may not be a million percent worth pursuing for one specific benefit. But as far as giving our foods an all-natural Smurf treatment goes (or just enjoying in your tea), she's all for it.

Originally published September 30, 2019. 

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