Balloon vine (botanical name Cardiospermum halicacabum) has derived its common name from the distended seedpod that not only makes it hollow, but also extremely lightweight. This herb is a creeper that grows perennially. The plant's stem at its base is just about 3 mm thick and it can climb up to a height of approximately 2 meters.
The stem of the balloon vine has internodes at distances of about 5 cm to 10 cm in length. The stem is grooved and it carries alternating double triad leaves that measure anything between 3 cm and 5 cm in length. Usually, the leaves are without any hair or fine bristles, but some leaves may be covered with soft, downy hairs.
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The form of the leaves varies from oval to lanceted and they are lobed along the edges or may be intensely serrated. The leaflets that appear at the side of the leaves are much smaller in size.
This herb bears tiny spreading out white flowers that appear on elongated flower stems measuring anything between 5 cm and 10 cm long. The perianth (the envelope of the flowers comprising the calyx or corolla or both) comprises anything between 4 and 5 elliptical sepals in addition to four petals having wing or banner-like delicate combs. In all, each flower has 8 anthers.
There is usually a pair of tendrils each immediately below the flowering stalks and each tendril measures about 2 cm in length. The green fruit of balloon vine measures about 3 cm in length and it is distended into an almost spherical form, much like a capsule that contains the typical heart-shaped seeds with white markings.
The balloon vine blooms at different times of the year, subject to where the plant is growing or is being cultivated. In fact, you can find plants belonging to the Sapindaceae family in nearly all tropical areas of the world. The fruits, especially of the Sapindus species, enclose saponins as well as some foam in water.
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This is one reason why these fruits are employed for washing purposes in their native places. On the other hand, people in many places consume the flesh of the fruit - it is generally edible.
Balloon vine belongs to the soapberry family of plants. It is an ordinary climber that is found growing in several regions having tropical as well as sub-tropical climatic conditions across the world.
Cardiospermum halicacabum is a rapidly growing weed, which climbs with the help of its tendrils. This plant produces triangular shaped bladder like fruits that replace the aromatic white flowers appearing in summer. The plant derived its common name "balloon vine" from its balloon shaped fruits.
However, the noted Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is responsible for giving the plant its botanical name Cardiospermum halicacabum, which has its origin in two Greek terms "kardia", which denotes the heart, and "sperma", which is the seed that has been named after the fruit's heart-like shape.
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In the tropical as well as sub-tropical areas of the globe, you can find this supposed attractive weed growing on its own in the wild, such as roadsides and waste places.
Usually, this plant grows in thick masses and has the potential to overpower and suffocate other native plants growing in the vicinity. Therefore, often the balloon vine is regarded as a pest. However, this is indeed shameful considering the multiple therapeutic properties of the herb.
In many Asian countries, the balloon vine is considered to be a traditional therapeutic plant and its mention can be found in the Ayurveda (an ancient Indian medicine system) as well as the medicine pharmacopoeia of India and the neighbouring island nation Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon).
This is ample proof of the fact that this herb has been used for therapeutic purposes for ages in these Asian nations, mainly because the pharmacopoeia dates back to several thousand years.
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The leaves, root, seeds.
The entire balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum) plant possesses several therapeutic properties. It is a good diuretic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, emetic, refrigerant, laxative, stomachic, rubefacient as well as sudorific.
Owing to its multiple therapeutic properties, this herb also has numerous applications. Balloon vine is employed for treating stiffness of the limbs, rheumatism, nervous conditions as well as snakebites. The leaves of this herb possess rubefacient attributes and, hence, they are applied in the form of a poultice for treating rheumatism.
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An herbal tea prepared from the leaves of balloon vine is employed for treating itchy skin. The leaves are also mixed with salt and applied in the form of a poultice on swellings. The juice extracted from the balloon vine leaves is used for treating earaches.
The roots of the balloon vine possess diuretic, diaphoretic, laxative, emmenagogue and rubefacient properties. Sometimes, the roots of this herb are employed for treating lumbago, rheumatism as well as various nervous diseases.
It has been found that the balloon vine plant also has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activities. This plant is extensively used in the ancient Indian medicine system called Ayurveda as well as various folk medicines for treating conditions like fever, rheumatism and earaches.
Some people also cook the tender leaves of balloon vine and consume it as a leafy vegetable. The juice extracted from the leaf is used as an ear drop to treat ear aches and related problems.
People who are lucky enough to find a balloon vine growing in their neighbourhood can use its leaves to make a poultice for healing skin infections, wounds, sprains, swellings, and even getting relief from the symptoms of arthritis.
Inhaling the crushed leaves of balloon vine is also said to provide respite from headaches, the juice extracted by crushing the leaves can be used in the form of an eardrop to ease ear aches. Consuming an infusion prepared from the leaves of balloon vine is said to be effective for treating bronchitis as well as several nervous problems.
Oral use of a decoction prepared from the balloon vine roots can help to end bleedings from haemorrhoids, while a decoction prepared with the crushed seeds of the herb can help to alleviate fevers and provide respite from problems related to rheumatism. Despite being a valuable therapeutic plant, unfortunately balloon vine is considered as an invading weed. Hence, it is high time that this plant should be taken on board as a medicinal plant in the West.
In the Americas, people use the balloon vine plant in various ways. Most commonly, this vine is used for treating problems related to the kidneys. For instance, people in Cuba, Mexico, Hispaniola as well as the Turks and those inhabiting the Caicos Islands use this herb in the form of a diuretic.
While people in Mexico use the roots of Cardiospermum halicacabum, in Cuba the leaves are used for the purpose and people in Turkey and Caicos Islands use the seeds in the form of a diuretic. In fact, people in each of these regions have their individual variations of therapeutic preparations, counting preparing decoctions from the leaves and roots of the balloon vine.
Some people also use the dried out seeds of the plant after grinding them and boiling in water. However, in each region, this preparation from balloon wine seeds is given to patients suffering from swollen legs and feet caused by kidney problems. In Argentina, people employ the same seed decoction for treating arthritis and rheumatism.
It is worth mentioning here that people in Mexico use the same or very similar preparations in the form of sudorifics (diaphoretics), purgatives, emetics and even as rubefacient to treat catarrh. People in Cuba also use the same preparation in the form of a sudorific.
Then again, in Hispaniola, people serve the same basic decoction prepared from balloon vine seeds, boiled or otherwise, in the form of a revitalizing beverage.
Likewise, the Caribs in Dominica crush the leaves of the plant in water to prepare a stimulating and cooling beverage. In Hispaniola, people employ the leaves as well as stems of Cardiospermum halicacabum in emollient poultices with a view to heal sores and abscesses.
People in Africa's Nigeria occasionally rub the leaves of balloon vine on their skin for treating various types of skin eruptions and itches. Alternatively, they also apply the leaves in the form of a poultice to heal swellings.
The juice extracted from the plant's stem is used for treating a number of conditions related to the eye. This stem juice is generally used as an eye drop. On the other hand, in several countries people employ the leaf as well as the root of balloon vine in the form of a remedy for treating various nervous diseases.
It is believed that balloon vine is indigenous to Asia, the Americas and Africa and perhaps South America is where this species grew first. Currently, balloon vine grows widely in several regions of Africa, India and South America.
In certain places where this plant grows on its own, it is considered to be an invading weed, often destroying crops. In the wine-growing areas of southern Germany as well as Switzerland this plant is cultivated by the locals.
Balloon vine is not a very strong or resilient plant. Balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum) has a preference for full sun, but can also grow well in semi-shaded locations, provided the soil mix is well drained. Balloon vine is mostly propagated from its seeds by people who want to grow this vine.