Balmony is an attractive perennial herb that has straight and square stalks growing up to a height of about 60 cm to 120 cm or two feet to four feet. The plant bears gleaming leaves that grow opposite to each other, are dented along the edges and get thinner to become pointed at the end. The plant blooms between July and September.
The herb may be found growing in moderation along the borders of marsh lands, rivers and wet woods. The plant grows permanently and is tender bearing leaves on opposite sides of a stalk. The oblong-shaped leaves of the herb are usually small, have a thick growth and found on the tips of the branches. The blooms of balmony are two-lipped and found in a variety of hues, including cream or rose, white or purple. The lower lip of the flowers has bristles near the throat and the anthers are in the form of the heart. The filaments of the flowers are woven. The balmony leaves possess a faint smell that fairly resembles tea and have a noticeably bitter flavor. It is advisable to plant the herb in pots so that the roots of the plant do not spread too far.
The herb has derived its botanical name from the Greek term denoting tortoise, primarily owing to the fact that the flowers of the herb appear like a tortoise's head. Indigenous Americans consumed the bitter leaves of balmony as it possesses aspects of an effective purgative. In addition, the balmony leaves have also been conventionally used to cure worms in the body. Present-day herbal medicine practitioners prescribe balmony for its ability to stimulate the functions of the liver. In fact, the herb serves as an effective liver tonic.
The balmony leaves are medicinally very useful as they are anti-nauseous, able to eliminate parasitic worms in the body, act as a cleansing agent and possess a tonic or stimulating property. Elements enclosed in the balmony leaves have an unusual action on the liver and hence the leaves are normally utilized for eating as well as to cure conditions such as indigestion or dyspepsia, weakness or debility, jaundice and liver disorders. Decoction prepared with the herb's leaves or its powdered form is administered to children internally or in injections to heal them from disorders owing to parasitic worms in the body. The leaves also cleanse the body of all toxins. An ointment or balms prepared with the balmony leaves are usually prescribed for patients suffering from irritating lumps, inflaming ulcers, swollen breasts, piles and many other conditions.
The natives of North America have been using the herb to cure several ailments and since long it has been considered to be an effective and popular tonic, purgative and laxative. However, it is altogether a different aspect that the doses of the herb taken by these aborigines raise questions regarding the tonic value of balmony leaves.
As mentioned earlier, balmony is a very pungent herb that has a flavor much similar to the tea and functions as a stimulant for the liver and the alimentary system. Despite the fact that the herb has been considered immensely beneficial in the North American popular medicine, scientists have failed to undertake researches to ascertain the true medicinal value of balmony. It has been found that balmony also possesses anti-depressant and cathartic properties. A decoction or tincture prepared with all parts of the plant is useful to treat nausea and may be used as a mild laxative, appetizer, cleansing agent, eliminator of worms and also as a tonic. Tincture prepared with the herb is ingested to heal conditions such as gallbladder problems, gallstones and others. The balmony leaves are also useful in alleviating problems like nausea, vomiting and cramps in the intestines. The tonic attribute of the balmony leaves has made them useful for curing anorexia nervosa or eating problems. Normally, the balmony plant is harvested when it is in blossom and then dehydrated and stored for use when necessary.
Habitat and cultivation
Indigenous to North America, balmony is found in many regions, including Newfoundland, Florida in the south and Texas in the western part of the continent. This perennial herb normally grows in low-lying areas like swamps, in humid woods as well as along the banks of streams and rivers.
The plant grows easily on any type of common soil, but thrives best in weightless loamy soil or clay. The herb is able to endure heavy clays as well as some darkness. In fact, the plant has a preference for growing in slight shade. Although the plant is able to sustain in arid conditions, it does not flourish in such situations. Balmony grows well in swampy gardens as well as in soils that will remain wet throughout the year and are unlikely to dry up. Among other things, the balmony plants are able to resist extreme cold conditions and thrive even in temperatures below -20°C. As the plant spreads its roots randomly covering large areas, it is advisable to grow them in pots with a view to restrain its roots.
Normally, balmony is spread through seeds. The seeds of the plant are sown in spring in a chilly container that is kept wet all through and the ideal temperature for germinating balmony seeds is 20°C. It takes around two to six weeks' time for the seeds to germinate. Once the seeds have germinated, each seedling needs to be taken out of the container and planted in separate pots. When the plants grow sufficiently large, it is better to re-plant them in cold frames to give them space to grow healthily as well as allow them to spread their crawling roots to some extent. When it is spring again or during early summer, the balmony plants need to be placed in their stable locations. It is advisable to grow the plants in sandy soil in an enclosure. The division of the root is normally done in autumn, while the tender tips of the plants are cut during the summer.
The chemicals enclosed in the herb's bitter leaves also react with water and alcohol. A heterogeneous medicine called chelonin is prepared from this herbaceous perennial. The powdered medication has a brown color and bitter flavor. It acts as a stimulating laxative, and is administered to people suffering from bowel problems.