Cardiospermum halicacabum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Cardiospermum halicacabum L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 366 (1753).
Family: Sapindaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 22


  • Cardiospermum corindum L. (1762),
  • Cardiospermum microcarpum Humb., Bonpl. & Kunth (1841),
  • Cardiospermum luridum Blume (1847).

Vernacular names

  • Balloon vine, heart pea (En).
  • Coeur des Indes, pois de coeur (Fr)
  • Indonesia: ketipes (Javanese), paria gunung (Sundanese), cenet (Malay, Western Sumatra)
  • Malaysia: peria bulan, uban kayu, bintang berahi
  • Philippines: parol-parolan (Tagalog), kana (Cebu Bisaya), paria-aso (Iloko)
  • Thailand: kok kra om (central), pho om (Pattani), luupleep khruea (northern)
  • Vietnam: tầm phong, chùm phong.

Origin and geographic distribution

C. halicacabum probably originates from the New World tropics. At present, it is a common weed in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world, and is common throughout Malesia. It is reported to be cultivated in the Philippines and Burma (Myanmar).


The root is the most important plant part used for medicinal purposes. In South-East Asia it is considered to be diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, antipyretic and purgative. The roots are reported to be used in Indonesia and the Philippines against catarrh of the bladder and urinary tract. The leaves are considered antirheumatic in the Philippines, where they are either taken internally or applied externally. In Indonesia, the bruised leaves are used as a cooling compress for nervous headaches. The leaves are reported to be used to treat eye problems in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

In India, the root is considered diuretic, diaphoretic, emetic, laxative, emmenagogic and rubefacient and is sometimes used to treat rheumatism, lumbago and nervous diseases. The leaves are reported to be rubefacient and useful as a poultice to treat rheumatism, and the leaf juice to be a cure for earache. In Bangladesh, pills made from a paste of the whole plant are used to treat asthma. In China, a decoction of the plant is used as a post-surgery wash, and a tea of the leaves is rubbed on itching skin. In Taiwan, leaves are applied to swellings, together with salt. In southern Africa an infusion of the leaves and stalk is applied as an enema to cure diarrhoea and dysentery; a similar method has been reported for Indonesia. The vapour of the crushed leaves is inhaled to relieve headache.

Apart from its medicinal uses, C. halicacabum is eaten as a vegetable, the stems serve to make baskets and the seeds are used as beads. The leaves are reported to be used for washing clothes and the head. An edible oil can be obtained from the seed.


The seeds contain about 30% oil, consisting of the glycerides of arachidic, lignoceric, stearic, oleic and linoleic acids and glycerol. Furthermore, the seed oil has been found to contain large amounts (55%) of cyanolipids (e.g. cardiospermin) and to consist for a large part (45%) of C20acids. Cyanolipids have not been found in families other than the Sapindaceae . Together with cyanogenous glycosides, these compounds provide plants with the ability to produce hydrocyanic acid, often through the use of enzymes that are activated when plant tissue is damaged. The extremely poisonous nature of hydrocyanic acid can thus protect plants, for instance against damage by insects. Hydrocyanic acid is also dangerous to man; cyanide acts by inhibiting the cytochrome oxidase system for oxygen utilization in cells. Other respiratory enzymes are also inhibited, but to a lesser degree. However, large amounts of plant material often have to be consumed to achieve dangerous concentrations (0.5-3.5 g/kg).

The unsaponifiable fraction of the pericarp is reported to contain pigments and flavones, whereas that of the inner parts of the seeds is characterized by triterpenoids and steroids. The latter fraction showed anti-inflammatory activity in rats.

An ethanolic extract of the aerial parts of C. halicacabum has shown anti-inflammatory activity in rats using the carrageenin-induced rat paw oedema test. The mechanism of action is most probably either the inhibition of phospholipase-II activity, resulting in reduced availability of arachidonic acid, or the stabilization of the lysosomal membrane system. An ethanolic leaf extract produced depression of the central nervous system, fall in blood pressure and bradycardia in isolated organ preparations and in vivo. The fall in blood pressure was partly antagonized by atropine and antihistaminics. A possible mechanism may be the inhibition of angiotensin-converting enzyme. On the guinea-pig ileum preparation, the extracts produced a strong contraction, which could also be partly antagonized by atropine and antihistaminics.

Another pharmacological experiment was an in vivo test in rats, in which an extract produced mild analgesia and showed proconvulsant and anti-inflammatory activity as tested by the granuloma pouch and cotton pellet implantation test. The essential oil and the water-soluble fraction of a dried alcoholic leaf extract gave an immediate fall of blood pressure in anaesthetized dogs; this hypotensive action was not affected by atropine. Furthermore, the water-soluble fraction of a dried alcoholic extract of the seeds produced an initial depression, followed by a marked stimulation of isolated frog heart. Finally, methanolic extracts of dried plants have shown antisickling and anticrenation activity of erythrocytes, with observed reversals being more potent than the effect of testosterone propionate.

In addition to the above-mentioned cyanolipids and cyanogenic glycosides, phytochemical investigations of C. halicacabum have revealed a variety of compounds: quebrachitol, steroids (stigmasterol, β-sitosterol), flavonoids (apigenin and acacetin), phenolic acids (p-hydroxybenzoic acid, vanillic acid, melilotic acid, p-coumaric acid and ferulic acid), alkaloids, tannins, proanthocyanidins, aromatic nitrosulfones and saponins. The saponins may account for the diuretic properties and make external preparations slimy for poulticing. Furthermore, saponins characteristically form foamy solutions in water, and saponin-containing seeds are often used as detergents. Most saponins have haemolytic properties, and thus are toxic to cold-blooded animals, hence employed as a fish poison. They are usually only weakly toxic for warm-blooded species when taken orally, but more dangerous when given parenterally, because of their direct haemolytic action.


  • An annual or perennial climbing herb or subshrub, up to 3 m tall, often much branched, especially near the base; stems deeply 5-grooved, slender, glabrous to sparsely hairy.
  • Leaves alternate, compound, biternate, 5-8 cm × 5-8 cm, petiole 1.5-3 cm long, grooved, slender, with minute stipules at the base; leaflets mostly 3-partite and pinnately lobed, lobes and apex aristulate, subglabrous to sparsely covered with short appressed hairs, petiolules narrowly winged, petiolule of terminal leaflet about 1 cm long, those of lateral ones about 0.5 cm.
  • Inflorescence thyrsoid, axillary, 5-14 cm long, patent, sparsely short-hairy, with a pair of tendrils, peduncle 7-10 cm long, slender, slightly above the tendrils terminated by a pseudo-whorl of 3 uniparous, helicoid cymes, which are bracteate, spreading, long-stalked and few-flowered; bracts lanceolate to elliptical, 1-2 mm long.
  • Flowers unisexual, 2-3.5 cm long, obliquely zygomorphic, with slender pedicel; sepals 4, broadly ovate to broadly elliptical, 1-2.5 mm × 1.2-2 mm, free, imbricate, green, tinged red with white margins, subglabrous; petals 4, obovate-cuneate to orbicular, 1.5-2.5 mm × 1-2 mm, with a scale inside above the base of each petal, white to creamish with yellowish margin, almost glabrous; stamens 8, slightly curved upwards, unequal, filaments 0.8-2.5 mm long, only slightly reduced in female flowers, slightly hairy, anthers 0.5 mm long; ovary superior, obovoid, 2-3 mm long, 3-angled, 3-celled, with 1 ovule per cell, variously pubescent, with a short columnar style and 3-lobed stigma, in male flowers pistil strongly reduced.
  • Fruit a globular capsule, inflated, 1.5-4 cm in diameter, 3-lobed, 3-celled, green, reddish at base or with reddish veins, papyraceous.
  • Seeds subglobular, about 4 mm in diameter, dull-black, smooth, glabrous, hilum prominent, white, cordate, rather large.

Growth and development

C. halicacabum can be found flowering and fruiting throughout the year, except for prolonged periods of drought. The first flower in every cyme is usually female, all others male. Fruits are dispersed by water currents, over short distances by wind but mainly as a result of human activities.

Other botanical information

C. halicacabum belongs to a genus of about 12 species, most of them restricted to tropical and subtropical America. C. grandiflorum Swartz, found in Africa and the Americas, is cultivated as an ornamental in Malesia and sometimes naturalized. It also contains cyanogenic compounds in its leaves.


C. halicacabum is found under a wide range of ecological conditions: in everwet or seasonal climates, on acid and basic soils, and in dry, marshy or periodically flooded places. It prefers sunny places, such as wasteland, roadsides, grassland, scrub, hedges and forest edges, at altitudes up to 1500 m.

Propagation and planting

C. halicacabum can be propagated by seed and softwood cuttings. Seeds germinate at temperatures from 15-40°C with an optimum of 35°C, and taking about 3 weeks. Scarification with concentrated sulphuric acid may facilitate germination.

Diseases and pests

Balloon vine is a major problem in soya bean cropping in the United States. The size and shape of the seeds is very similar to those of soya bean seeds, which makes mechanical separation of the two very difficult.


C. halicacabum is mostly collected from the wild.

Genetic resources and breeding

As C. halicacabum is a common weed throughout the tropics and subtropics, the risk of genetic erosion appears limited.


Because C. halicacabum contains potentially toxic compounds such as saponins, cyanolipids and cyanogenic glycosides, it seems advisable to carry out research on its toxicity for humans before promoting its use for medicinal purposes.


  • Gopalokrishnan, C., Dhananjayan, R. & Kameswaran, L., 1976. Studies on the pharmacological actions of Cardiospermum halicacabum. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 20(4): 203-208.
  • Gurib-Fakim, A. & Sewraj, M.D., 1992. Studies on the antisickling properties of extracts of Sideroxylon puberulum, Faujasiopsis flexuosa, Cardiospermum halicacabum, and Pelargonium graveolens. Planta Medica 58(7 suppl. 1): A648-A649.
  • Hegnauer, R., 1973. Chemotaxonomie der Pflanzen [Chemotaxonomy of plants]. Vol. 6. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Boston, Stuttgart. pp. 271-287.
  • Johnston, S.K., Murray, D.S. & Williams, J.C., 1979. Germination and emergence of balloonvine (Cardiospermum halicacabum). Weed Science 27(1): 73-76.
  • Leenhouts, P.W., 1994. Cardiospermum. In: de Wilde, W.J.J.O., Nooteboom, H.P. & Kalkman, C. (Editors): Flora Malesiana. Series 1, Vol. 11(3). Rijksherbarium/Hortus Botanicus, Leiden, the Netherlands. pp. 483-486.
  • Mikolajczak, K.L., Smith, C.R. & Tjarks, L.W., 1970. Cyanolipids of Cardiospermum halicacabum L. and other sapindaceous seed oils. Lipids 5(10): 812-817.
  • Plouvier, V., 1949. Nouvelles recherches sur le québrachitol des Sapindacées et Hippocastanacées, le dulcitol des Célastracées et le saccharose de quelques autres familles [New researches on quebrachitol of Sapindaceae and Hippocastanaceae, dulcitol of Celastraceae and saccharose of some other families]. Comptes Rendues hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 228: 1886-1888.
  • Sadique, J., Chandra, T., Thenmozhi, V. & Elango, V., 1987. Biochemical modes of action of Cassia occidentalis and Cardiospermum halicacabum in inflammation. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 19(2): 201-212.
  • Umadevi, I. & Daniel, M., 1991. Chemosystematics of the Sapindaceae. Feddes Repertorium 102(7-8): 607-612.
  • Wijayakusuma, H.M.H., Dalimartha, S. & Wirian, S.W., 1994. Tanaman berkhasiat obat di Indonesia [Plants yielding medicine in Indonesia]. Vol. 3. Pustaka Kartini, Indonesia. pp. 99-101.

Other selected sources

1, 19, 46, 97, 104, 190, 193, 202, 242, 287, 332, 412, 531, 580, 551, 900, 921, 955, 1035, 1085, 1126, 1128, 1178, 1221, 1305, 1380, 1554.


J.P. Rojo & F.C. Pitargue