Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) is frequently used in Ayurvedic medicine, as a memory enhancer, antidepressant and tranquilliser. Different parts of the plant have been shown to have different properties, but an infusion of the roots appears to be most effective. In traditional Chinese medicine it was used to treat infertility and ailments of the female reproductive system. In other traditional medicines it was used to encourage menstruation.
The flowers are used to colour food, or make herbal tea that is blue in alkaline solution, turning pink if acids such as lemon juice are added.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.
Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his daughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.