Butterfly pea, a less known edible plant | Sunday Observer

Butterfly pea, a less known edible plant

3 October, 2021

The number of countries that are facing issues with food security as an aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic is on the rise. Nevertheless, food insecurity has been an inherent challenge since the origin of mankind. It is no exaggeration to state that the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the food insecurity due to crippling of ordinary flow of human life. Among many areas where the pandemic has hit hard, impact on food production has been significant.

The economic impact of social distancing and lockdown is palpable. Loss of income and livelihood have plagued people across the globe, notwithstanding the social status and economic condition.

Apart from the increased risk of food insecurity which has been resulted from Covid-19 pandemic, malnutrition is another problem the world has to deal with due to non-reachability of nutrient-dense food. Crippling of worldwide food production, restrictions on imports as well as travels and transport have impacted on the lives of people despite their purchasing power. Due to unreachability of nutritious food, even the rich have been unable to obtain them. The poor cannot afford them anyway due to jacked up prices as a result of shortage of production and supply of food.

Hence, finding alternative foods as a solution is viable to assure food security and to avert the nations becoming malnourished.

To achieve this, raising awareness on less popular edible plants is essential. There are many an edible plant in Sri Lanka with high nutrient content but are not consumed due to ignorance of people. Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) is an ornamental perennial climber of which leaves, flowers and pods are edible. The tenderest pods can be curried and tempered while flowers can be consumed as tea or cool drink. The leaves are used in preparing traditional herb porridge, Kola Malluma and curry.

However, the leaves and pods are not recommended to be consumed in large quantities and on a regular basis as there can be side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea and diuresis. Pregnant and lactating mothers are advised to consume the leaves and pods of butterfly pea climber under medical supervision.

Nutrients and health benefits

As per traditional medical practitioners of Sri Lanka, flowers, leaves and pods of butterfly pea climber bear similar bromatological composition. Studies have found that there are minerals such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc in butterfly pea leaves, pods as well as flowers. They also contain a considerable amount of crude protein and carbohydrate. Apart from that, butterfly pea leaves and pods contain dietary fiber that helps in digestion.

According to traditional medical practitioner Dr. Palitha Sri Geegana Arachchige, parts of butterfly pea climber are used in traditional medicine to improve memory and brain function and it is also used as a nootropic. The edible parts of butterfly pea climber are also used for treating constipation, insomnia, urinary tract ailments and skin diseases.

They are also effective in curing common cold, fever and cough. Edible parts of butterfly pea climber also detoxify body and reduces mental and body fatigue. In traditional medicines, butterfly pea pods and leaves are used to treat diabetes as they have the ability to reduce the sugar level in the blood.

Curried butterfly pea pods

For a curry, the most tender pods should be selected because the tough ones are hard to eat. The tender pods are easy to break with your fingers and the seeds are not yet grown inside or tiny green colour ones.

To prepare a curried butterfly pea pods, wash and cut or break the tender pods into medium sized pieces. To prepare a curry from about 250 g of butterfly pea pods, chop 4 spring onions, 1 green chili and one small sized tomato. Coarsely crush 1 or 2 cloves of garlic and small piece of ginger. Crush 2-3 peppercorns. In a clay pot add chopped butterfly pea pods along with chopped spring onions, green chilli and tomato.

Add crushed ginger, garlic and peppercorns. Then add a few curry leaves, a piece of pandan leaf and a small piece of cinnamon. Add ½ teaspoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of curry powder and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder. Then add salt and the second extract coconut milk. Cook the curry while stirring occasionally. When the pieces of butterfly pea pods are cooked, add second extract coconut milk and cook further for about 3-5 minutes and remove from heat.

Serve this curry with rice. Since this curry is laxative and sometimes emetic, consumption in small quantity is recommended.

Tender butterfly pea pods can also be tempered. To prepare tempered butterfly pea pods, wash and cut them into small pieces. Chop onions, garlic, tomato and green chilli. Heat a pan and add pure coconut oil.

When the oil is heated add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start to splutter, add a small piece of cinnamon into the oil. Then add a few curry leaves and a small piece of pandan leaf. Then add chopped onions and sauté for about 2-3 minutes. Then add chopped tomato and green chili. Sauté the vegetables for about 1 ½ minutes and add chopped butterfly pea pods. Add salt and cook until the pods are tender. Then add chili flakes and cook for another 2-3 minutes under low heat.

Curried butterfly pea leaves

Curry, Malluma and herb porridge can be prepared using butterfly pea leaves. It is recommended to cook the leaves along with some other herbs such as dwarf copper leaf (Mukunuvenna /Ponnankanni). Tender leaves are ideal for cooking.

Wash both butterfly pea leaves and dwarf copper leaf. Chop dwarf copper leaf. Since the tender butterfly pea leaves are smaller in size, they need not be chopped. Add butterfly pea leaves and dwarf copper leaf into a clay pot. Chop onion and green chili and add in the pot. Coarsely crush a small piece of ginger and one or two cloves of garlic and add to the pot.

Then add a few curry leaves, pandan leaf, a small cinnamon piece and one piece of garcinia (Goraka). In to that, add one teaspoon of curry powder, ¾ teaspoon of chilli powder and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add second extract coconut milk and cook until the leaves change their colour and become soft. Then add first extract coconut milk and cook for a couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Serve the curried butterfly pea leaves with rice.