A member of the soapberry family (sapindacea), balloon vine or heartseed is a common climber found growing in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Thought to be native to Africa, the Americas, and Asia the plant probably evolved in South America.
It is a fast-growing weedy, tendril-climber with three cornered bladder type fruits formed from scented white flowers that bloom in summer. Its common name, balloon vine, was derived from the shape of the fruit. However, Linnaeus, who gave the plant its botanical name Cardiospermum from the Greek kardia, heart, and, sperma, seed named it after the heart-like shape of the fruit.
The vine grows to a height of about six metres and has alternating ferny leaves growing from slender, hairy stems. The two centimetre wide bell-shaped flowers have four petals and are in short racemes that terminate at the end of long stalks. The greenish-white pendulous three angled fruits are up to five centimeters long and have three compartments containing a single black spherical seed in each one.This attractive so-called weed can be found growing wild in waste places and roadsides. It often grows in a dense mass that has the potential to smother native plants so is sometimes regarded as a pest, which is a shame because it has very useful medicinal properties.
Balloon vine is a traditional medicinal plant in Asian countries and can be found in the Ayurvedic medicine pharmacopoeia of Sri Lanka and India. This attests to the age-old use of the plant in these countries because the pharmacopoeia originated thousands of years ago.
The leaves, root, and seeds are used. If you are fortunate enough to have the vine growing close by you can make a poultice from the leaves to treat wounds, skin infections, swellings, sprains, and arthritis. Inhale crushed leaves to relieve headache and make eardrops from the juice of the leaves to treat earache. To treat bronchitis and nervous disorders make an infusion of the leaves. Taking a decoction of the roots can stop bleeding from haemorrhoids and a decoction from the crushed seeds can relieve fevers and rheumatism. This is a valuable plant that should be taken on board in the west as a medicinal plant rather than being viewed as a weed.