Cardiospermum halicacabum: Edible Leaves
For a tropical plant, the Balloon Vine can take cold weather, growing from west Texas north to Montana, Florida north to Massachusetts and most points in between. In fact, in Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas it is a noxious and invasive weed… all the more to eat though few know it is edible. It’s not a plant found in most foraging books.
Here in Florida if you see a vine covering other plants it will usually be the Bitter Gourd or the Balloon Vine. The latter’s fruit is quite eye-catching and distinctive, looking like little balloons, albeit with seams. There are three edibles, by the way. The Cardiospermum halicacabum, C. microcarpum and C. corindum. The C. microcarpum is found in Florida, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. The C. corindum is found in Florida, Texas, Arizona and Puerto Rico.
While not naturalized on the west coast there are several reports it grows well there, from lower California to Washington State. It also grows in Central America, South America, (cultivated in Brazil) Hawaii, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Polynesia, India, Sri Lanka, Africa, Malta, Europe, window boxes in Brooklyn et cetera. In cooler areas it is an annual, in warmer, a perennial.
As mentioned, the Balloon Vine is found all around the world and is used for food and medicine. It is also popular with the butterflies , locally the Amethyst Hairstreak, the Silver-Banded Hairstreak, and Miami Blue. Almost all of the fruit on the Balloon Vine will have frass inside from where the caterpillars dined. Fortunately we eat the young leaves and shoots.
C. halicacabum is a problem plant for soybean seed growers because the seed size and shape are similar. Because of C. halicacabum can form thick mats, it’s a problem in Southern United States where it can smother and kill native vegetation. Aboriginal people used Balloon Vine in the treatment of rheumatism, nervous diseases, stiffness of the limbs and snakebite. Leaves were crushed and made into a tea for itchy skin. Salted leaves are used as a poultice on swellings. Young leaves can be cooked as vegetables. The leaf juice has been used as a treatment for earache.
What Cardiospermum (kar-dee-oh-SPER-mum) means is not in any dispute, it is “heart seed” referring to the tiny image of a heart on the seed. Halicacabum (hal-ee-KAY-ka-bum) is not so clear. In Greek it means “salt barrel” and goes back to perhaps to Xalo (ha-LOW) with means to spoil or to break. Such barrels were short and squat, and the Greeks called some plant by the same name. The Romans stole the plant name from the Greek but thought it kind of looked like a bladder so they used it with a plant that had inflated fruits. Microcarpum (mye-crow-KARP-um, though in Greek it would be mee-krow-KARP-um) means small seed and corindum can mean “heart of India” or more likely “heart of Indian Ivory.” In the Soapberry family, the Balloon Vine is also called “Love In A Puff.”
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
C. halicacabum: A woody, perennial vine native to Tropical America. They are fast growing to 10 feet (3 m) with twice 3-parted leaves that will reach 4 inches (10 cm) long. The plants climb with tendrils and need some form of support. They are used as annuals in USDA zones 5-8 and are perennial in zones 9-11. The small white flowers bloom from summer through the fall, flowers are not very showy. The fruit from which the plant gets its common name is a brown, thin-shelled, inflated angled capsule up to 1 1/8 inch (3 cm) in diameter containing 3 black seeds each, with a white heart-shaped scar.
TIME OF YEAR:
All year in warmer climates, seasonal in cooler climates
Waste places and cultivated ground
METHOD OF PREPARATION:
Young leaves and shoots cooked.