Saturday, 18 July 2009

Loofah (or Luffa)

These edible gourds are native to the Old World tropics. There are several species, generally about a foot long, and the mature fruits contain a spongy material known as loofah. Loofahs can be used as sponges, and before World War II, most of the U.S. production was used as filters in ships’ boilers. They are also used for insulation and to stuff pillows.
luffa sponge, loofa, loofah, sponge gourd, Luffa cylindrica, Luffa aegyptiaca, and aegyptica.

- edible when young and can be cooked and eaten like squash or okra
- cleaning almost everything, including dishes, people, cars, boats, plastic buckets, and anything that needs scrubbed but can't withstand steel wool.

Most are grown in a warm climate and have the benefit of a long growing season. Luffas grow best in full sun in a well-prepared bed. It is optional to soak in warm water for a few hours before planting. Some say this improves germination rates. Plant seeds 20-30cm apart along a fence. Once they get established, the plants are quite vigorous. They grow on vines that can reach 10m in length. A strong supporting trellis is a must.

The small seedlings grow very slowly while the roots become established. Once they are about 15cm tall the increase in growth rate is phenomenal. When the vines bloom, bright yellow flowers attract all types of nectar gathering creatures. The flowers are quite pretty and abundant. When the flowers wilt, slender cucumber-like vegetables appear. The vines continue to grow and produce fruit until the weather cools and the sponges begin to mature.

Harvest and Process:
When the sponges are ready for harvest (dark brown and dry shell, very lightweight and rattle when shaken) they can be peeled. Crack the dry skin and peel off, starting at the stalk end. When you get to the base, many seeds will tumble out so be ready to catch them. The remainder of the seeds can be shaken out. Give your sponge a good scratch and wash, shake well and set to dry in an airy place. Your luffa is ready to use or give. Save plump seeds in a cool, dry place until next Spring.

These sponges are machine washable. They can be sun bleached, or lightened using hydrogen peroxide or a diluted chlorine bleach solution. Ours are fine in their natural state. To colour or dye clean and cut the sponges to desired lengths and dye using natural or commercial dye. Dry well. Attach cord through one end of the luffa to hang in the shower. Cut into many shapes for pads, mats, and other craft items - cut the sponges lengthwise and remove the core to make sheets of sponge material.


How can I keep my loofah bacteria-free?
All-natural and porous, loofahs are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria, which can cause skin infections via an open cut or acne. So keep yours clean. Rinse it thoroughly after each use and let it dry outside the shower. Washing these sponges with an antibacterial soap can help, but it won't kill all the germs, and frequent cleaning can cause your loofah to deteriorate and become less effective for exfoliating. The easiest solution: Replace it often. There's no need to feel guilty—the sponges are a biodegradable, renewable resource; when your loofah's time has come, toss it on the compost heap.

If you would like some luffa seeds to grow, please contact me. I can only supply seeds within Australia, and not to WA or Tas.


artemis-of-the-eucalypts said...

That was a really interesting read! I have alwayse wondered about loofahs!

Amber said...

Oh wow fasinating thanks for sharing...xx

Anonymous said...

I love growing them, we eat them when small and process them for the kitchen and bathroom, they last until the next years crop when they go into the compost and the new ones take their place:) said...

Hi, I just discovered your blog, very interesting and you are growing a wonderful array of different things. We just have a unit, but I am managing to grow a large variety of food to eat,and flowers for the soul. I just planted luffa so was interested to read your post. I live in tropical Australia.