All About Balloon Vine
Though technically an herb, Indians use the leaves as the base of a few Indian dishes. Balloon vine’s other descriptive monikers include “love in a puff,” and “heart seed vine.” It was anointed its Latin name by Carl von Linne in 1753. Although its binomial name sounds like the base of a juvenile joke, Cardiospermum means “heart seed,” in direct reference to the heart-shaped imprint on the seeds.
Origin of Balloon Vine
Balloon vine’s origins are muddy, but the generally agreed upon range includes Brazil and eastern Argentina, and possibly southern Mexico and the Caribbean. A few sources also include India and Africa, but not all botanists agree on these inclusions. The plant’s method of dispersal is debatable, with theories ranging from Europeans carrying the herbs with them, to the seeds floating on their own through various water channels. The ease of seed dispersal is indeed a credible reason for balloon vine’s wide range of origin: like coconuts, the pod can float across the ocean and remain viable for up to 25 weeks. Balloon vine has since naturalized in Australia, and is an invasive species in New Zealand and East Africa.
This plant has existed on Indian soils for many centuries, but it’s not known how or when it arrived. Daniel Austin, author of the book, “Florida Ethnobotany,” explains that its ancient Sanskrit name, multiple regional names, and American names supports the theory of a pre-Columbian history. If this is the case, balloon vines may have grown in India long before the 1400s.
Availability of Balloon Vine
India’s soils house two types of these plants: small balloon vine (C. corindum) and the one simply known as balloon vine (C. halicacabum). The former plant’s Latin name, corindum, means “heart of India.” Though not well recognized as a food source among young city slickers, Indians have had a strong relationship with the vine for eons, mostly for its medicinal values. In Kerala, for example, the plant ranks as one of the state’s ten sacred flowers. The plants grow in abundance throughout the plains in the tropics, with their flowers blooming from summer to fall. Balloon vines prefer hotter regions but can be found up to 4,000 feet along the Himalayas.
Few urban shops sell balloon vine, but they are easily spotted in the wild from India’s southern states all the way up north to Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, most of India’s major languages have a name for this plant. Those looking for balloon vine would do best to search the villages, or call in a favor from the local vegetable vendor who may be able to procure it from larger central markets. The older generations living on a farm likely have the best knowledge of this plant.
Though the mature leaves are too bitter and hairy to enjoy cooked or raw, the young leaves may be used in recipes. The taste of balloon vine resembles many greens with its grassy, earthy, astringent, bitter, and slightly salty taste. When finely ground in a blender or food processor, however, the taste becomes bitterer than even a bitter gourd. As a bitter green, the taste of balloon vine makes it too strong to use as the only ingredient, such as making it the base of a salad or green stirfry. Rather, it accentuates existing batters and soups.
According to the book, “Nutritive Value of Indian Foods,” balloon vine leaves (modakanthan keerai) contains the following values:
One of the main health benefits cited for balloon vine is its ability to treat joint pain. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of an auntie or uncle making a green fry in hopes of alleviating arthritis. One such joint pain remedy entails boiling the leaves in water with cumin and asafetida for 15 minutes, adding pepper, and then drinking the concoction. Juice made from the leaves also treats earaches and is administered to reduce tumor sizes. Sri Lankans use the young shoots to treat skeletal fractures.
In the Trichy district of Tamil Nadu, locals take it to reduce constipation, and some women swear by its ability to prevent gray hairs and regulate their menstrual cycles. Applying a poultice made from the fresh flowering plant is also a common method of alleviating skin conditions such as eczema, for which medical studies have since confirmed its efficacy. As outlined in a study published by the Pakistan Journal of Botany, parts of the plant have also been used as a diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative, stomachic, and sudorific. Additionally, balloon vines have been used to treat rheumatism, bronchitis, and snake bites.
Scientific studies on balloon vine are as follows:
--According to a 2005 study published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, balloon vine extracts showed potent fever reducing qualities.
--A 2011 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology indicates that balloon extracts are a natural anti-inflammatory agent, while also proving to be a rich source of antioxidants.
--As per a 2010 study published in the Journal of Phytology, balloon vine extracts showed inhibitory potential against several types of bacteria strains.
--A 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Biomedicine found that the plant contains potent anti-diabetic properties: When tested in diabetic rats, the extracts positively affected blood sugar and insulin levels.
--A 2013 study published in Inflammation Research affirms the plant’s traditional use as an anti-arthritic: Rats treated with the leaves experienced cartilage regeneration, and the anti-inflammatory compounds of the plant effectively scavenged harmful radicals that contribute to arthritic inflammation.
--Another 2011 study published in the journal, Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology also confirms the plant’s traditional use as an antiarthritic based on its collagen restoration abilities.
--According to a study published by the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer, balloon vine extracts may be a valuable cancer therapy tool on account of its ability to combat the immunosuppressant activity of the common cancer drug, cyclophosphamide.
--A 2000 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research reveals that the shoot and fruit of balloon vines have strong activity against both HIV-1 and HIV-2.
--A 2011 study published in the Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology indicates that plant extracts have hypolipidemic effects against streptozotocin-induced rats.
--According to a 2009 study published in the Internet Journal of Pharmacology, balloon vine extracts displayed anti-anxiety benefits when measured in rats enduring high stress situations.
Selecting Balloon Vine
Look for vibrant green leaves with no sign of yellow or browning. When lifted, the bundle should not sag or wilt. Inspect the leaves carefully to ensure they haven’t been bruised in transit.
Rinse the bundle of leaves at least twice to ensure no dirt remains. Pat dry. As is the case with all leafy greens, do not wash until ready for consumption; otherwise, water will accelerate their spoilage. Store balloon vines by wrapping in a paper towel, and then keeping in the fridge.
--When adding to batters, it’s best to make a paste: Chop the leaves (stems optional), then blend with a pinch of water. The concoction should look gooey and pulpy.
--If adding to rasams or soups, finely chop the leaves. Some choose to sauté whole leaves first.
--To use as an herb or flavoring agent, use whole young, tender leaves. Chop into thinner strands if desired.
Recipe Ideas and Uses
The standard balloon vine recipes are as follows:
--Add the leaf paste to make a healthier, calcium-fortified dosa: Many living in Tamil Nadu recall with great delight (and in many cases, horror) how their parents used to serve them this green, fermented rice and dal pancake. Simply add the paste in a 1:2 ratio (1 part paste to 2 parts dosa batter). To make the batter, just soak 1 cup of par boiled rice, 1 cup of raw rice, and 1/3 cup of dal for at least two hours. Grind the dal and rice (drizzle water to promote the grinding if necessary), and then combine the paste with the batter. Mix until smooth. Next, let the batter ferment for 6 hours. Ladle thinly on a flat pan, and cook until golden brown. Serve with coconut chutney.
--Stir the paste into rice
--Include sautéed greens to rasam recipes: gently heat the leaves in oil at a low flame until their green hue brightens and they begin to wilt. Add to the rasam base, or mulligatawny soup.
--Substitute these greens with recipes calling for dandelion greens: sprinkle a few young leaves in pasta, mashed potato, and on flatbreads.
|From Uma's Kitchen Experiments|
Garlic, onion, tomato, beetroot, walnut, almond, coconut, cayenne, mustard seed, chili
In Mexico, balloon vine is known as huevo de gato, or, cat’s testicles. In Puerto Rico, its name is the tamer bombilla (electric lightbulb).
Bunuuchchhe, indravalli, jyotishmati (Sanskrit)
Kanphata, kanphuti, kapalphodi (Hindi)
Kanphuti, shibjal, kakumardanika (Marathi)
Kottavan, modikkottan, mudakattan (Tamil)
Jyotishmati, katabhi (Malayalam)
Buddakakara, ekkudutige, jyotishmatitige, kasaritige (Telegu)
Agniballi, bekkinatoddinaballi, erumballi, kakaralata (Kannada)
Kapal phuta (Assamese)
Hubli kul, zool posh (Kashmiri)