Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Balsam Apple - Lin Frye
While we were visiting the gardens of Old Salem, NC, this unusual vine covered one of the fences. It was labeled "Balsam Apple" - a plant I never heard of before. There were some opened fruits - the flesh as bright an orange as this, and the inside covered with incredibly bright, scarlet/red seeds. It looked edible - but we thought we should check resources before tasting.
Good thing we did!
Balsam Apple (Momordica balsamina) is a plant original to Africa, and brought to the US by Jefferson, and is considered an 'old southern' plant. According to Wikipedia, "In the Philippines it is called "ampalaya" by the Tagalogs. It is a popular vegetable in the island of Luzon where it is mixed with other vegetables to make a stew. It is also sauteed with either shrimp, meat, pork, chicken and served with thick gravy.
While the leaves are safe to eat, the seeds can be toxic if too many are injested. Although they do sell Balsam supplements, like all things moderation is key."
Yet other sources I checked said the fruit was highly toxic ... a weed in Florida, used as a liniment by adding the pulped fruit (without the seeds) to almond oil for chapped hands, the fluid extract used to help with dropsy. According to Perdue University, the fruit is boiled when immature and eaten like a vegetable.
So there you go - its edibility can all depend on which part you eat, when you eat it, how you cook it.....
For me, I'm opting for safety and will delight in its ornamental beauty and fall colors ....