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Clitoria ternatea – a source of a blue food dye

December 19, 2010

During the night of December 16-17, and in the morning of the 17th, Dokmai Garden received 16 mm of rain. We had overcast all day, which made yesterday’s garden tour to Mae Khanin Tai brilliant! A deeply green forest with mist clouds, and a temperature just above 20°C, perfect for taking pictures. December rains are not abnormal. According to the weather data of the Chiang Mai airport, the average precipitation in December, based on 30 years of measurements, is 21 mm. However, early mango blossom may have taken a hit.

One plant which enjoys the extra rain is the butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea, Fabaceae). Its flowers are cobalt blue and are used by the Thais to dye rice blue, or to make sweet blue drinks. It is currently in blossom at Dokmai Garden. We prefer to grow the original form with its unique shape, while the flore pleno mutant with many extra petals are more commonly seen in the Chiang Mai gardens, as each flower provides more pigment. The origin of the butterfly pea is obscure, but it is now pan-tropical.

The descriptive name Clitoria was coined by Linnaeus during the burlesque 18th century. However, people worldwide have made the same association as Linnaeus and therefore the plant has been used to cure venereal diseases and as an aphrodisiac, according to the Doctrine of Signatures.

Text: Eric Danell

Photo: Frank Teng, Tropical Gardening School student

The butterfly pea is easy to grow from seeds, and rapidly forms beautiful flowers.

If you need to buy that special Christmas gift, check here!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2010 8:04 AM

    now i want the seeds of these, lol! i’ve seen the photos of this plant before. what a color. does one crush flowers fresh or dry/cook to dye?

    cool stuff. i need to grow it next summer.

  2. January 4, 2011 4:37 PM

    You can eat the flowers raw. They have a nutty taste like so many other pea flowers. If you crush them fresh your fingers will turn blue. Ketsanee said that you can dissolve the colour in a bowl of water and then dip and squeeze sticky rice in it. She was not sure about the boiling.


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