Cardiospermum is a genus of flowering vines, containing an estimated 14 species, native to the tropics in Africa, the Americas, and India. At least one species is domesticated and grown ornamentally and the genus also appears to have medical uses in creams designed for treating eczema and other skin conditions. Nurseries sometimes carry starts or seeds, and gardeners can also get them through exchanges with other gardeners. Skin care products containing Cardiospermum can be obtained at some drugstores and natural food stores.
The genus name for this group of plants is a reference to the distinctive heart-shaped markings found on the seeds. The vines grow by throwing tendrils around objects in the environment. The leaves vary in size and structure and small clusters of white flowers are produced. The flowers develop into balloons that will reveal three seeds in separate compartments when cracked open. Common names for members of this genus include heartseed vine, balloon vine, and love in a puff.
These members of the soapberry family can be annual or perennial, depending on the species and the environment. They are fast growing, and in their native tropics can become quite large. Outside their normal growing range, people sometimes grow Cardiospermum as annual vines, taking advantage of the fast growth to develop some greenery in the garden in the spring and summer before allowing the plants to die off during the fall and winter months. The seeds can be collected and used to start new vines in the following year.
People interested in growing Cardiospermum will need a sunny area of the garden with rich, well-drained soil and minimal wind. A trellis should be established for the plants to climb, or they will grow as trailing vines along the ground. Because Cardiospermum can sometimes become invasive, it is advisable to check with local invasive plant listings before growing. If the plant is listed as invasive, people may want to reconsider, or should monitor the plant closely while it grows to prevent it from escaping the garden and endangering native plant species.
Studies have been conducted in several regions on Cardiospermum extract to learn how effective it is in the treatment of skin conditions. Studies have returned variable results but it does seem to have some active properties, making it a potential alternative to long term steroid use in people with chronic skin conditions. Gels and creams made with the extract can be used to soften and break down rough, irritated skin.