Dried balloon flower root, a commonly used Chinese herb, is also known as Platycodon grandiflorus in scientific name and Jie Geng in Mandarin name, which can be literally translated as “tangerine peduncle” in English. But don’t be fooled by this name to mistakenly think that it literally refers to the stem of orange. As a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with orange or citrus. Thanks to its amazing medicinal properties on soothing the lung and expelling pus, the market demands of this herb are very urgent every year. Meanwhile, because of the refreshing and crisp texture, it has long been taken as vegetable in many places, especially in Yanbian Jilin. What’s more, this is also a beautiful flower blooming from June to September. As you can see, this herb has tons of health benefits to offer.
What is balloon flower root?
Medicinally it means the roots of Platycodon grandiflorus (Jacq.) A. DC., which is a plant in the family Campanulaceae. So it is also commonly known as Radix Platycodi, Platycodon, Radix Platycodi Grandifolii, Platycodon grandiflorus, Platycodon Root, Chinese Bellflower, and so on. In China it is mainly cultivated in Northeast and North China and the one from Northeast is generally acknowledged as better in quality. Usually it is harvested in autumn. For better medicinal properties, the following process is to get rid of fibrous roots, scrap off the outer skin, soak in water for 2 to 3 hours, slice, dry in the sun, and used raw or fried.
Balloon flower plant is a perennial herb, 30 to 90 cm in height. The whole plant is glabrous. Roots are fleshy, cylindrical, and branched sometimes. Erect stems are single or branched. Leaves are nearly sessile. Leaves on the middle or the lower stems are opposite or in whorls of 3 to 4. Leaves on upper part of stem are sometimes alternate. Leaf blade is ovate-lanceolate, 3 to 6cm long, 1 to 2.5cm wide, and with acute apex, cuneate or rounded base, and serrate margin. Flower solitarily grows on the top the stem, or a few of them form sparsely racemes. Blue-purple calyx is campanulate. Capsule is obovate, with 5 valvular dehiscences on top when ripe. Seeds are ovoid and with 3 edges. Flower season is from July to September and fruiting phase is from August to October. Habitat in the wild is the hillside grass.
Main chemical constituents are a variety of saponins, including 18 kinds of triterpenoid saponins like platycodin, deapioplatycodin, 2-O-acetylplatycodin, 3-O-acetylplatycodin, and so on. A variety of mixed saponins could be fully hydrolyzed into sapogenins, such as platycodigenin, polygalacic acid, and a small amount of platycogenic acid. And mixed saponins could be also partly hydrolyzed into 8 kinds of pros-aponins, like methyl 3-O-β-D-glucpyranosyl polygalacate, methyl 3-O-β-laminaribiosyl polygalacate, and more.
Balloon flower root benefits
Balloon flowers are a popular ingredient in a few famous South Korean dishes, especially the seasoned and bibimbap salads. And medicinally it is a common Chinese herbal medicine, which is mainly used to eliminate phlegm, relieve cough, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, lose weight, fight tumor, improve human immunity, etc. Traditionally it has been widely used in various herbal prescriptions, Chinese patent medicine and cosmetics. Today balloon flower root tea and extract are much more popular because of their convenience. And in this respect its pharmacology has something to tell.
Modern pharmacological actions of balloon flower rhizome
1. It contains platycodin, whose direct stimulation on the mouth, throat, and gastric mucosa can reflexively increase the hypersecretion of bronchial mucosa and thus dilute the mucus and make it easy to discharge;
2. It prevents cough, increases anti-inflammatory action and enhances immune function. As for anti-inflammatory effect, it works like aspirin;
3. Its water extract can enhance the phagocytosis of macrophage, increase the bactericidal power of neutrophil, improve lysozyme activity, and prevent stress ulcer;
4. Campanulaceae crude saponins have sedative, analgesic and antipyretic effects. In addition, it can also lower blood sugar and cholesterol and relax smooth muscle;
5. Platycodin has a strong hemolysis. But taken orally it can be decomposed in the digestive tract and then lose the hemolysis.
Selected herbal remedies of root of balloon flower
As indicated in the Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter and acrid in taste and neutral in nature and covers two meridians of lung and stomach. Essential functions are opening the inhibited lung-energy, making expectoration easy, relieving sore throat, and expelling pus. Primary balloon flower root uses and indications include cough with excessive phlegm, sore throat, vomiting pus due to pulmonary abscess, hypochondriac pain, abdominal pain in dysentery, and retention of urine. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 10 grams in decoction, powder or pills.
1. Xing Su San from Wen Bing Tiao Bian (Systemic Discourse on Warm Diseases). Platycodon root combines Zi Su Ye (Perilla Leaf) and Xing Ren (Apricot Seed) for the treatment of common cold due to wind-cold.
2. Sang Ju Yin from Wen Bing Tiao Bian. It is used together with Sang Ye (White Mulberry Leaf), Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum Flower) and Apricot Seed for wind-heat type cold.
3. Jia Mei Gan Ju Tang from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Understanding of Medical Science). This herb is used along with Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Niu Bang Zi (Arctium), etc. for sore throat and aphonia caused by exogenous pathogenic factors invading the lung.
4. Jie Geng Tang in Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Cabinet). It works with Licorice Root to treat coughing up fishy phlegm;
5. Zhi Ke Tang in Su Shen Liang Fang [Beneficial Prescriptions collected by Su (Tung-Pho) and Shen (Kua)]. It couples with Zhi Ke (Fructus Aurantii) to remove stagnated qi in the chest.
balloon flower root side effects and contraindications
Balloon flower root is considered safe no matter it is used for medicinal or culinary purposes. And so far no known danger and drug interactions were reported. In TCM view, it shouldn’t be taken when the patients are diagnosed with chronic cough due to yin deficiency, reversed flow of qi and coughing up blood.