If you stroll along the Hockey Stadium in Shantinagar, you may spot a flash of brilliant blue among the weeds. The weeds, growing in profusion around an electric installation on Langford Road, will reveal an amazingly bright-coloured flower amid the thick growth of leaves.
On checking with botanists and the Internet on a site called The Flowers of India, its name was found be the Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea), or more commonly called the Blue Pea. The plant belonging to the Fabaceae family is strikingly shaped and can take the pride of place among domesticated flowers in a garden.
Arun Kumar N., a student of botany clarifies that the flower is “Not the Shankapushpi used in Ayurveda, but a different ornamental climber. It is a part of the morning glory family. It is found in the wild. The white variety is the most common. Most of the time they are escapees from gardens.”
Wendy Dickson, another flower lover says, “I grew a creeper some years ago, but when the white insects got to it, that was the end of it. They seem to do best in the wild for some reason.”
The Butterfly pea is an amazing plant, with a rich history of use in traditional Asian medicine. Many believe this plant to be a true gift of nature as almost all parts of the plant were known to have beneficial effects, the seeds are said to be purgative, the flowers are an aphrodisiac and the dried herb is an anti-anxiety agent, antidepressant and anticonvulsant according to an ayurvedic website.
Corporation sweeper Lakhmi K. who cleans the area says she plucked off the dried blooms and put them in her tea. From childhood she was told by her mother that it helped to increase one’s memory and keep one calm.
Yatish Siddakatte says he has both the white and blue varieties growing in his garden which is tended to by his mother. Once the flowers are spent, little pea-like seed cases appear which can be saved and once mature, new seedlings can be grown from them. Francy Violet says: “This flower is called ‘Sangu Pushpam’ in Tamil which means shell flower.”
In Southeast Asia, the blue flowers are used as a natural food colouring agent and added also to rice, tea, fruit juice or cocktails. The Butterfly Pea flowers are also known to contain a natural antioxidant.