Common name: Balsam, Rose balsam, Garden balsam
There would be very few children who have not enjoyed bursting balsam seeds open, by gently squeezing them with the fingers. This common garden plant is native of India and was popular in most gardens. It is a surprise that most plant nurseries don’t have this beautiful, versatile, easy-to-grow plant. Balsam plants grow to a height of 1-2.5 feet, with a thick but weak stem and slender long leaves. The leaves have toothed-edges that are not sharp.
Flowers grow all along the stem from the axil, the angular space between leaves and the stem in colors like orange, pink, red, white and lilac. The flowers have 2-3 large fused petals and 2-3 smaller under-developed petals that are protected by modified sepals. One of the sepals is modified into the shape of a cup which holds the flower and also has a long hanging tail on it.
Balsam plants start blooming about 2 months after sowing, and they bloom in all joy and abundance. They are seasonal, the plants withering away after a season of exuberant blooming. The flowers then produce the most interesting seeds pods, which are light green. Once they mature, they turn lighter in color, until they are almost translucent. Then they burst open or dehisce, dispersing the seeds over a short area.
Newer plants grow all around mother plants, from these little black seeds thus ensuring that there are more plants for the next flowering season. With ideal growing conditions, Balsams can keep blooming over a long period of time, new plants growing from older ones in a cyclical manner.
These lovely Balsam plants also have many medicinal uses. Crushed leaves and flowers are used in curing burns, wounds and skin inflammations. Flowers are anti-bacterial, and is used to treat snake bites. Balsam seeds help in relieving cough. They are also used in treatment of cancer. Roots are also used to treat wounds and inflammations.
Leaves, seeds and shoots can be cooked and eaten. Balsam flowers are used to produce dyes, that were earlier used to dye finger nails.
Propagation is through seeds. Small plants sprout near the parent plant growing from seeds, which can then be replanted successfully.