The Butterfly Pea, a climber, is used for its dye, particularly amongst the Peranakans who use it as a food-colouring.
Although it can be found growing in the wild in our region, the Butterfly Pea is believed to have originated from South America and Asia. It is believed to have been brought to India in the 17th century; then to Europe and much later to the tropics. It belongs to the sub-family Papilionaceae of the family Leguminosae and is a perennial climber. With pinnated leaves extending to five to nine leaflets, it often grows into a thick foliage. But the climber is commonly cultivated for its attractive azure flowers with winged petals and light markings. The flowers last 24 hours only. Its flat pods pops black seeds when mature.
Locally, the blue flowers are commonly used as dyes for colouring confectionaries. In particular, it is used in the savoury Nonya bak chang or "rice dumplings" where it adds a tinge of blue to the dumplings. As a dye, it is popular amongst the health conscious who do not appreciate artificial dyes. The dye can also be used as a litmus while the plant itself is useful as a matting. Various parts of the Javanese variety, which has white flowers, are used in traditional medicine. The white version is grown today only for ornamental purposes. In Australia, the Blue Pea is valued as fodder because of its higher protein content. It also serves to increase the nitrogen level of the soil.
Common name: Butterfly Pea, Pigeon Wings, Blue Pea.
Scientific name: Clitoria ternatea.
Malay name: Bunga Telang, Bunga Biru, Kachang Telang.
Ismail Saidin. (1993). Bunga-bungaan Malaysia. (p. 142). Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka.
(Call no.: RSEA q635.909595 ISM)
Burhill, I. H. (1966). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. (pp. 595-597). Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives.
(Call no. RSING 634.909595 BUR)
Beauty of true blue blooms to enhance your garden. (1998, February 14). The New Straits Times.
Sweet purpose to the Blue Pea flower. (1997, July 5). The New Straits Times.
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.