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Clitoria ternatea

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.

Our evidence-based analysis on clitoria ternatea features 22 unique references to scientific papers.

Research analysis led by and reviewed by the Examine team.
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Research Breakdown on Clitoria ternatea

1Sources and Composition

1.1Historical 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

2Neurology 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

2.2Anxiety 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

3Interactions 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]

4Interactions with Cardiac Health

4.1Lipids 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.

5Immunity 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]

6Interactions with Hormones


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

7Nutrient-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]

8Safety 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. ^ a b c d e f Jain NN, et al. Clitoria ternatea and the CNS. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. (2003)
  2. ^ a b c Rai KS, et al. Clitoria ternatea root extract enhances acetylcholine content in rat hippocampus. Fitoterapia. (2002)
  3. ^ a b c Malik J, Karan M, Vasisht K. Nootropic, anxiolytic and CNS-depressant studies on different plant sources of shankhpushpi. Pharm Biol. (2011)
  4. ^ a b c d e f Sethiya NK, et al. An update on Shankhpushpi, a cognition-boosting Ayurvedic medicine. Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. (2009)
  5. ^ Aulakh GS, Narayanan S, Mahadevan G. Phyto - chemistry and pharmacology of shankapushpi - four varieties. Anc Sci Life. (1988)
  6. ^ Swain SS, Rout KK, Chand PK. Production of Triterpenoid Anti-cancer Compound Taraxerol in Agrobacterium-Transformed Root Cultures of Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea L.). Appl Biochem Biotechnol. (2012)
  7. ^ Kumar V, et al. Validation of HPTLC method for the analysis of taraxerol in Clitoria ternatea. Phytochem Anal. (2008)
  8. ^ Terahara N, et al. Eight new anthocyanins, ternatins C1-C5 and D3 and preternatins A3 and C4 from young clitoria ternatea flowers. J Nat Prod. (1998)
  9. ^ Terahara N, et al. Five new anthocyanins, ternatins A3, B4, B3, B2, and D2, from Clitoria ternatea flowers. J Nat Prod. (1996)
  10. ^ a b c d e f Taur DJ, Patil RY. Evaluation of antiasthmatic activity of Clitoria ternatea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. (2011)
  11. ^ Ripperger H. Isolation of stigmast-4-ene-3,6-dione from Hamelia patens and Clitoria ternatea. Pharmazie. (1978)
  12. ^ Kazuma K, Noda N, Suzuki M. Malonylated flavonol glycosides from the petals of Clitoria ternatea. Phytochemistry. (2003)
  13. ^ Revilleza MJ, Mendoza EM, Raymundo LC. Oligosaccharides in several Philippine indigenous food legumes: determination, localization and removal. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. (1990)
  14. ^ Kamkaen N, Wilkinson JM. The antioxidant activity of Clitoria ternatea flower petal extracts and eye gel. Phytother Res. (2009)
  15. ^ Rai KS, et al. Clitoria ternatea (Linn) root extract treatment during growth spurt period enhances learning and memory in rats. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. (2001)
  16. ^ a b c d Taranalli AD, Cheeramkuzhy TC. Influence of clitoria ternatea extracts on memory and central cholinergic activity in rats. Pharm Biol. (2000)
  17. ^ Rai KS, et al. Altered dendritic arborization of amygdala neurons in young adult rats orally intubated with Clitorea ternatea aqueous root extract. Phytother Res. (2005)
  18. ^ a b Adisakwattana S, et al. In vitro inhibitory effects of plant-based foods and their combinations on intestinal ¿-glucosidase and pancreatic ¿-amylase. BMC Complement Altern Med. (2012)
  19. ^ a b c d Solanki YB, Jain SM. Antihyperlipidemic activity of Clitoria ternatea and Vigna mungo in rats. Pharm Biol. (2010)
  20. ^ PIALA JJ, MADISSOO H, RUBIN B. Diuretic activity of roots of Clitoria ternatea L. in dogs. Experientia. (1962)
  21. ^ El-Halawany AM, et al. Screening for estrogenic and antiestrogenic activities of plants growing in Egypt and Thailand. Pharmacognosy Res. (2011)
  22. ^ a b c Ramanathan M, Balaji B, Justin A. Behavioural and neurochemical evaluation of Perment an herbal formulation in chronic unpredictable mild stress induced depressive model. Indian J Exp Biol. (2011)