Plant profile: Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea)

The Clitoria ternatea can improve soil quality, while its flowers are used in cooking.

Julio J Figueroa for The National
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The striking butterfly pea, or Clitoria ternatea, makes for a beautiful ornamental plant. Also used to improve soil quality, this plant grows vigorously as a vine by twining with its stems on whatever support it comes into contact with or by creeping on the ground. Its flower is frequently a vivid deep blue, with light-yellow markings, though some varieties yield white flowers. The butterfly pea is native to tropical equatorial Asia, but has also been introduced to Africa, Australia and America.

It’s best to water the plant regularly to keep it from defoliating during the warmer months. Propagate by seed or cuttings; after soaking the seeds overnight, germination should take place within seven to 10 days.

The flower is used in Malay cooking to colour rice for several dishes. The plant is also used in Thailand to create a blue syrupy drink called nam dok anchan.

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