Clitoria ternatea

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Clitoria ternatea
Starr 980529-1406 Clitoria ternatea.jpg
Clitoria ternatea vine
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Clitoria
Species: C. ternatea
Binomial name
Clitoria ternatea
Flower and pods in different states of ripeness
The shape of the flower has inspired some of its names.

Clitoria ternatea, common names including butterfly pea, blue pea, Cordofan pea and Asian pigeonwings, is a plant species belonging to the Fabaceae family. The flowers of this vine have the shape of human female genitals, hence the Latin name of the genus "Clitoria", from "clitoris". (Synonyms: Clitoris principissae.).[1]

Names in other languages include bunga telang (Malay), อัญชัน `anchan (Thai), đậu biếc (Vietnamese), अपराजिता Aparajita in Hindi and 蝶豆 dié dòu (Mandarin Chinese), 'Sankhu Poolu/Sankham Poolu' in Telugu, "Shankupushpam" in Malayalam language and অপরাজিতা (Aparajita) in Bengali.


This plant is native to tropical equatorial Asia, but has been introduced to Africa, Australia and America.


It is a perennial herbaceous plant, with elliptic, obtuse leaves. It grows as a vine or creeper, doing well in moist, neutral soil. The most striking feature about this plant is the color of its flowers, a vivid deep blue; solitary, with light yellow markings. They are about 4 cm long by 3 cm wide. Some varieties yield white flowers.

The fruits are 5 – 7 cm long, flat pods with six to 10 seeds in each pod. They are edible when tender.

It is grown as an ornamental plant and as a revegetation species (e.g., in coal mines in Australia), requiring little care when cultivated. As a legume, its roots form a symbiotic association with soil bacteria known as rhizobia, which transform atmospheric N2 into a plant-usable form, therefore, this plant is also used to improve soil quality through the decomposition of N-rich tissue.



In Southeast Asia the flowers are used to colour food. In Malay cooking, an aqueous extract is used to colour glutinous rice for kuih ketan (also known as pulut tai tai or pulut tekan in Peranakan/Nyonya cooking) and in nyonya chang. In Kelantan, it is used to colour white rice for nasi kerabu. In Thailand, a syrupy blue drink is made called nam dok anchan (น้ำดอกอัญชัน), it is sometimes consumed with a drop of sweet lime juice to increase acidity and turn the juice into pink-purple. In Burmese and Thai cuisines, the flowers are also dipped in batter and fried.

Traditional medicine[edit]

In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used for centuries as a memory enhancer, nootropic, antistress, anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, tranquilizing, and sedative agent.[2]

In traditional Chinese medicine, owing to its similarity to the female reproductive organ, this plant has been ascribed properties affecting the same (a phenomenon also found in connection with the mandrake, among other plants). It was used traditionally in an attempt to treat sexual ailments, like infertility and gonorrhea, to control menstrual discharge, and also as an aphrodisiac. This practice aligns with an ancient belief recorded in the Doctrine of Signatures.[3]

In animal tests, the methanolic extract of C. ternatea roots demonstrated nootropic, anxiolytic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and antistress activity.[4][non-primary source needed] The active constituents include tannins, resins, starch,[dubious ] taraxerol, and taraxerone.[citation needed]


Recently, several biologically active peptides called cliotides have been isolated from the heat-stable fraction of C. ternatea extract. Cliotides belong to the cyclotides family[5] and activities studies show that cliotides display potent antimicrobial activity against E. coli, K. pneumonia, P. aeruginosa and cytotoxicity against Hela cells. These peptides may have potential to be developed as antimicrobial and anti-cancer agents.[6][non-primary source needed]

Additional cyclotides from this plant were identified by RNA-sequence technology and shown to have cyclotide sequences possessing different biophysical and functional properties expressed in different organs.[7] This layer of complexity to the properties of the cyclotides of C. ternatea illustrates the biological specialization that cyclotides have undergone in this plant species. Cyclotides from aerial organs possess tighter binding activity to insect-like membranes, whereas cyclotides from roots and seed, two organs that contact soil, had relatively higher effectiveness against juveniles of the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.[8] Indeed, the isolated Cter M cyclotide that is highly expressed in aerial organs was shown to effectively slow the growth and kill moth larvae.[9] Thus, these cyclotide genes and the peptides they encode are potentially valuable molecules for use in agriculture and plant protection.

The enzyme responsible for the biosynthesis and backbone cyclization of cliotides has recently been isolated. It was named butelase 1 in accordance to its local name in Singapore (bunga telang ligase). Butelase 1 is the fastest peptide ligase known capable of catalyzing peptide cyclization at an extraordinary efficiency.[10]


Front and back sides
C. ternatea, Isla Margarita, Venezuela
Clitoria tea in a pot
Thai khao tom sweet colored blue with C. ternatea flowers
A less common "double-flowered" C. ternatea


  1. ^ Pharmacopia Indica Awl
  2. ^ Mukherjee PK, Kumar V, Kumar NS, Heinrich M"The Ayurvedic medicine Clitoria ternatea-From traditional use to scientific assessment." J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Sep 20;
  3. ^ Fantz, Paul R. (1991). "Ethnobotany of Clitoria (Leguminosae)". Economic Botany (New York Botanical Garden Press) 45 (4): 511–20. doi:10.1007/BF02930715. JSTOR 4255394. 
  4. ^ Jain, N; Ohal, C.C; Shroff, S.K; Bhutada, R.H; Somani, R.S; Kasture, V.S; Kasture, S.B (2003). "Clitoria ternatea and the CNS". Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 75 (3): 529. doi:10.1016/S0091-3057(03)00130-8. 
  5. ^ Nguyen, GK; Zhang, S; Nguyen, NT; Nguyen, PQ; Chiu, MS; Hardjojo, A; Tam, JP. (Jul 2011). "Discovery and characterization of novel cyclotides originated from chimeric precursors consisting of albumin-1 chain a and cyclotide domains in the Fabaceae family". J Biol Chem. 286 (27): 24275–87. doi:10.1074/jbc.m111.229922. 
  6. ^ Nguyen, Kien Truc Giang; Zhang, S; Nguyen, N. T.; Nguyen, P. Q.; Chiu, M. S.; Hardjojo, A.; Tam, J. P. (8 July 2011). "Discovery and Characterization of Novel Cyclotides Originated from Chimeric Precursors Consisting of Albumin-1 Chain a and Cyclotide Domains in the Fabaceae Family". Journal of Biological Chemistry 286 (27): 24275–24287. doi:10.1074/jbc.M111.229922. PMC 3129208. PMID 21596752. Retrieved July 8, 2011. 
  7. ^ Gilding, Edward K.; Jackson, Mark A.; Poth, Aaron G.; Henriques, Sónia Troeira; Prentis, Peter J.; Mahatmanto, Tunjung; Craik, David J. (December 2015). "Gene coevolution and regulation lock cyclic plant defence peptides to their targets". New Phytologist. doi:10.1111/nph.13789. 
  8. ^ Gilding, Edward K.; Jackson, Mark A.; Poth, Aaron G.; Henriques, Sónia Troeira; Prentis, Peter J.; Mahatmanto, Tunjung; Craik, David J. (December 2015). "Gene coevolution and regulation lock cyclic plant defence peptides to their targets". New Phytologist. doi:10.1111/nph.13789. 
  9. ^ Poth, A. G.; Colgrave, M. L.; Lyons, R. E.; Daly, N. L.; Craik, D. J. (18 May 2011). "Discovery of an unusual biosynthetic origin for circular proteins in legumes". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (25): 10127–10132. doi:10.1073/pnas.1103660108. 
  10. ^ Nguyen, Giang. "Butelase 1 is an Asx-specific ligase enabling peptide macrocyclization and synthesis". Butelase 1 is an Asx-specific ligase enabling peptide macrocyclization and synthesis. 

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