Butterfly Pea

Last Updated: November 17, 2022

A subtle brain boosting herb from Ayurveda known as Shanka Pushpi that has mechanisms and traditional usage similar to Bacopa Monnieri but, unlike Bacopa, does not currently have any human interventions to test its efficacy.


Butterfly Pea is most often used for

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Sources and Composition


Historical Usage

Clitoria Ternatea, also referred to as the Butterfly Pea, is a cognitive enhancer used in Ayurveda that is also known as Shanka Pushi. It is currently grown as a mixed ornamental, fodder, and medicinal plant.[1] Clitoria Ternatea is a tropical twining herb, growing wild and also in gardens, bearing white/ink blue flowers resembling a conch-shell.[2]

The roots, leaves, and stems are all frequently used in Ayurveda, but for slightly different purposes. The roots are most widely used and are bitter, refrigerant, laxative, intellect promoting, diuretic, anthelmintic and tonic and are useful in dementia, hemicrania, burning sensation, leprosy, inflammation, leucoderma, bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary tuberculosis, ascites and fever.[1] The seeds are cathartic, while the leaves are used in otalgia and hepatopathy.[1]

It should be noted that Shankapushpi is associated with traditional benefits, but the source is of question. Clitoria Ternatea is one of three herbs (the other two being Convolvulus pluricaulis and Evolvulus alsinoides, both from the Convolvulaceae family) that has been associated with the term Shankapushpi; all three herbs appear to have memory boosting bioactivity.[3] Infrequently, Canscora decussata is also used.[4] The plant that may rightfully claim the name of Shankapushpi seems to be Convolvulus pluricaulis.[3][4]

Taxonomically speaking, the above four plants all share the same class (Magnoliopsida) and Clitoria Ternatea separates itself at the level of sub-class (belonging to Rosidae, while the other three belong to Asteridae); Canscora decussata then separates into the Gentianales order while the remaining two plants keep identical orders (Solanales) and families (Convolvulaceae).[3][5]

'Historically used' as a brain booster, but its historical reports are inherently going to be confounded with three other herbs since they have been used interchangeably when the 'true' Shankapushpi is not available



Benefits have been seen with both the water and ethanolic components, so there are likely multiple bioactive compounds (in regards to brain boosting); the known components of Clitoria Ternatea are:

  • Taraxerol[6][7]
  • Anthocyanin compounds based on Delphinidin called Ternatins[8][9]
  • Steroids, undisclosed[10] but possible related to stigmast-4-ene-3,6-dione[11]
  • Flavonoids, undisclosed[10]
  • Glycosides, undisclosed in one study[10] and those based on kaempferol and quercetin in another study[12]
  • Saponins, undisclosed[10]
  • Carbohydrates in the seeds and leaves, mostly water-soluble mucilage, flutulene, and oligosacchardes[4][13]
  • A fatty acid composition consisting mostly of Palmitic, Stearic, Oleic, and Linoleic acids[4]
  • A biopesticide called Finotin[4]
  • Trypsin inhibitors (unidentified) in the seeds[4]

Total phenolic content of Clitoria Ternatea is approximately 1.9mg/g (0.2%) gallic acid equivalents (GAE); relatively low compared to other herbs.[14]

Composition of Clitoria Ternatea is still not too well known


Neurology and the Brain



In young rat pups, 50 or 100mg/kg of the water extract of Clitoria Ternatea was able to increase memory over the course of 30 days.[15] Higher doses of the ethanolic extract (300mg/kg) have also been found to be effective, with the root extract being seemingly more potent than the aerial (leaf and stem) extract.[16] A subsequent comparative study found 100mg/kg Clitoria Ternatea (water extract) insignificantly different than 50mg/kg Piracetam after 9 days of treatment, despite no apparent effects of Clitoria after the first day (with Piracetam being effective after the first dose); suggestive of a loading effect of Clitoria similar to Bacopa Monnieri.[1]

One in vivo study noted higher cholinergic function after oral administration of Clitoria Ternatea, suggesting the mechanism for memory enhancement is via acetylcholine.[16] Other studies have also noted increases in acetylcholine localized to the hippocampus using 100mg/kg of a water extract.[2] This latter study assessed both neonatal (6 day old) and adult (60 day old) rats and found increases in hippocampal acetylcholine to 130% and 262% of baseline values, respectively, with more efficacy in older rats. The authors suspected an increase in acetylcholine synthetic enzymes due to earlier work on dendritic arborization[17] being indicative of enhanced protein synthesis in neurons.[2]

When rats are subject to electroshock stress (to induce cholinergic amnesia) a higher degree of memory retention is seen with Clitoria roots relative to aerial parts, and insignificant differences exist between the potency of 300mg/kg or 500mg/kg Clitoria Ternatea and 54mg/kg Pyritinol when looking at acetylcholine content of the brain; Pyritinol led to an increaese in acetylcholinesterase activity in the Midbrain while higher doses of the root extract led to increases in the cortex and decreases in the Medulla; 300mg/kg had no effect on acetylcholinesterase.[16]

Preliminary animal evidence suggests that it has the memory enhancing effects that have been attributed to it historically, and comparative analysis' put it at a similar potency in animals to some common nootropic compounds


Anxiety and Depression

Clitoria Ternatea appears to possess both anxiolytic and anti-depressive actions, of moderate to weak potency relative to control drugs (Diazepam, Fluoxetine).[1] In testes doses of 30-400mg/kg it showed dose-dependence, however.

Clitoria was also able to reduce the biological effects of stress on rats when taken at 400mg/kg, as assessed by stress-induced ulcers. High doses of Clitoria may be adaptogenic.[1]

Appears to possess stress reducing effects, but may not be overly potent in doing so; lack of evidence anyways


Interactions with Glucose Metabolism



In vitro studies on carbohydrate enzymes found that Clitoria was able to inhibit the intestinal glucosidase enzymes (IC50 of 3.15+/-0.19 mg/ml) against intestinal sucrase (IC50 4.41+/-0.15 mg/ml) and pancreatic alpha-amylase (IC50 4.05+/-0.32 mg/ml).[18] The pancreatic alpha-amylase inhibition was additive with the herb Hibiscus sabdariffa.[18]


Interactions with Cardiac Health


Lipids and Lipoproteins

In a model of experimentally induced hyperlipidemia (via poloxamer 407 in one study, diet-induced in the other), Clitoria Ternatea was able to suppress triglycerides and total cholesterol (at 500mg/kg) to a similar extent as the statin atorvastatin (50mg/kg) and Gemfibrozil (50mg/kg) although no group brought levels back down to control value.[19] Both seeds and the root extract reduced Triglycerides, although only the root was able to reduce total cholesterol. Since benefit was also seen with poloxamer 407, it was concluded that the benefits on triglycerides were seen through activating lipoprotein lipase (LPL).[19] Clitoria Ternatea was also associated with an increased fecal cholesterol content (indicative of inhibiting absorption of cholesterol) but did not influence HMG-CoA activity.[19] This study finally concluded an improvement in the artherogenic index and the HDL:LDL ratio, with a decrease in lipid peroxidation associated with Clitoria Ternatea.[19]



Clitoria Ternatea has been used traditionally as a diuretic, which has been confirmed in dogs[20] but has not been investigated further.


Immunity and Inflammation



The ethanolic extract of Clitoria Ternatea has been shown in one mouse study to possess anti-asthmatic effects as assessed by passive cutaneous anaphylaxis.[10] In this test, there was no significant difference between 100, 125, and 150mg/kg bodyweight Clitoria Ternatea and it was equally effective as 50mg/kg Dexamethasone in regards to suppression of leukocytes and Eosinophils.[10]


Interactions with Hormones



Components of Clitoria Ternatea (aerial parts) have failed to induce appreciable estrogenicity in a yeast assay on both estrogen receptors subtypes.[21]


Nutrient-Nutrient Interactions



Perment is a brand name for 500mg of four herbs of Ayurveda in equal (125mg) parts; Bacopa Monnieri, Ashwagandha, Clitoria ternatea, and Asparagus racemosus; touted to be synergistic with each other in at least one (independent) study.[22] In an animal model of Chronic unpredictable manageable stress (which effectively induces anxiety and depression), the Perment ratio was administered at 75, 150, and 300mg/kg bodyweight for 21 days alongside stressors was able to negate stress-eating (no dose-response), was about as potent than Diazepam (2mg/kg) at normalizing neurotransmitter levels, and less potent at reducing anxiety.[22] Perment appeared to be more catered towards anti-depressive effects than anti-anxiety effects in this study, and no evidence was put forward for synergism between the molecules.[22]


Safety and Toxicity

One study assessing oral toxicity and using doses up to 3000mg/kg bodyweight failed to notice any salient toxicological signs or deaths with this dose, using concentrated ethanolic extracts of the aerial parts (11:1) and roots (6.4:1).[16]

1.^Jain NN, Ohal CC, Shroff SK, Bhutada RH, Somani RS, Kasture VS, Kasture SBClitoria ternatea and the CNSPharmacol Biochem Behav.(2003 Jun)
2.^Rai KS, Murthy KD, Karanth KS, Nalini K, Rao MS, Srinivasan KKClitoria ternatea root extract enhances acetylcholine content in rat hippocampusFitoterapia.(2002 Dec)
4.^Sethiya NK, Nahata A, Mishra SH, Dixit VKAn update on Shankhpushpi, a cognition-boosting Ayurvedic medicineZhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao.(2009 Nov)
5.^Aulakh GS, Narayanan S, Mahadevan GPhyto - chemistry and pharmacology of shankapushpi - four varietiesAnc Sci Life.(1988 Jan)
7.^Kumar V, Mukherjee K, Kumar S, Mal M, Mukherjee PKValidation of HPTLC method for the analysis of taraxerol in Clitoria ternateaPhytochem Anal.(2008 May)
8.^Terahara N, Toki K, Saito N, Honda T, Matsui T, Osajima YEight new anthocyanins, ternatins C1-C5 and D3 and preternatins A3 and C4 from young clitoria ternatea flowersJ Nat Prod.(1998 Nov)
9.^Terahara N, Oda M, Matsui T, Osajima Y, Saito N, Toki K, Honda TFive new anthocyanins, ternatins A3, B4, B3, B2, and D2, from Clitoria ternatea flowersJ Nat Prod.(1996 Feb)
10.^Taur DJ, Patil RYEvaluation of antiasthmatic activity of Clitoria ternatea L. rootsJ Ethnopharmacol.(2011 Jun 22)
12.^Kazuma K, Noda N, Suzuki MMalonylated flavonol glycosides from the petals of Clitoria ternateaPhytochemistry.(2003 Jan)
13.^Revilleza MJ, Mendoza EM, Raymundo LCOligosaccharides in several Philippine indigenous food legumes: determination, localization and removalPlant Foods Hum Nutr.(1990 Jan)
15.^Rai KS, Murthy KD, Karanth KS, Rao MSClitoria ternatea (Linn) root extract treatment during growth spurt period enhances learning and memory in ratsIndian J Physiol Pharmacol.(2001 Jul)
18.^Adisakwattana S, Ruengsamran T, Kampa P, Sompong WIn vitro inhibitory effects of plant-based foods and their combinations on intestinal ¿-glucosidase and pancreatic ¿-amylaseBMC Complement Altern Med.(2012 Jul 31)
20.^PIALA JJ, MADISSOO H, RUBIN BDiuretic activity of roots of Clitoria ternatea L. in dogsExperientia.(1962 Feb 15)
21.^El-Halawany AM, El Dine RS, Chung MH, Nishihara T, Hattori MScreening for estrogenic and antiestrogenic activities of plants growing in Egypt and ThailandPharmacognosy Res.(2011 Apr)