By Patricia Fox

Who doesn’t love the gentle exfoliating powers of a loofah bath sponge? Loofah is a naturally sourced, eco-friendly, renewable scrubber that is also compostable! But what is a loofah, anyway? I admit, I have contemplated the strange structure of my loofah trying to figure out what the funky-shaped thing might have once been. If you’re like me, perhaps your mind’s eye even conjured up pictures of sea sponge skeletons.  

Turns out, our loofah bath sponges are vegetables! Gourds, to be more specific. A member of the Cucurbitaceae Family, they are related to several vegetable varieties commonly grown in our home gardens, such as cucumbers, watermelon, pumpkins, and squash. Keeping in characteristic with many other members of this family, the loofah is an annual vine that uses tendrils to climb and produces attractive large, yellow flowers.

 

 

You may be curious as to why you’re learning about Loofah gourds on a Countryside blog post. Well, we are growing Loofah gourds at the Old Trail Farm! You didn’t know you could grow Loofah plants in Northeast Ohio, you say? Until recently, neither did I! While the Old Trail Farm loofah plants are thriving in a cozy, warm greenhouse, it is possible to grow loofah in your home garden, with sufficient planning and the right growing conditions. 

Loofahs are tropical in origin and require a long growing season to produce the mature fruits essential for a good sponge harvest. Your cold sensitive loofah plant may need upwards of 150+ warm days to ensure adequate time for the fruits to ripen. 

 

Growing your Loofah Sponge

Tips for successfully growing your loofah sponge include:

  • Start seeds indoors a few weeks early 
  • Transplant outdoors once the soil temperatures are suitably warm 
  • Choose an area with full sun
  • Plant in well-drained, rich soil
  • Loofah plants prefer moist soil conditions
  • Consider adding compost to the soil
  • Worried about soil temperatures? Try using black mulch to warm the soil
  • These plants produce long vines and providing proper trellising is important
  • Provide plenty of growing space!

 

 

The 12–24-inch green fruits of the loofah gourd resemble a very large, extra-long cucumber. The gourds should be left on the vine to ripen. They are ready to harvest when the rind turns straw-colored or brown and becomes dry and brittle. 

 

 

To reveal the compactly netted vascular bundles that provide the exfoliating scrubbing power of the sponge, you need to break and peal the skin and remove the pulp and seeds. The gourd can be soaked overnight in water to soften the rind for easier peeling. 

 

 

 

Slice the end of the Loofah (a bread knife works well) to shake out the seeds. 

Note: Prior to peeling, you should whack your loofah gourd on a hard service to break the skin and loosen the seeds. This will make the seeds easier to shake out of the center once you’ve cut open the end of the loofah.

 

 

 

You’ll also need to rinse out the remaining pulp from inside the loofah. If desired, you can soak your dried loofah sponge in a bleach solution to lighten the color.

In case you needed more reasons to love your loofah, here are a couple more tidbits. This versatile vegetable’s uses don’t have be limited to your shower routines. They are highly useful for scrubbing dishes and other scouring tasks. Just be sure to clean your sponge regularly, allow to dry thoroughly between uses, and replace every 3-4 weeks (or sooner if you notice the color changes or it smells). Finally, loofah gourds are edible when young! It’s recommended to harvest the gourds for eating when they are about 2-3 inches long, and they are said to be similar to a summer squash.

For more information about growing and harvesting Loofah gourd plants, please enjoy the links below. 

Sources:

“Loofah.” Britannica.

https://www.britannica.com/plant/loofah . Accessed August 11, 2021.

Luffa aegyptiaca. Extension Gardener. North Carolina Plant Toolbox. North Carolina State Extension.

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/luffa-aegyptiaca/ . Accessed August 11, 2021.

“Luffa Gourds.” Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center. Vegetable Research and Extension. 

http://agsyst.wsu.edu/LuffaGourds.html . Accessed August 11, 2021.

Grigsby, Jean. “How to Grow Luffa to Make Your Own Sponge.” Farmers’ Almanac. 

https://www.farmersalmanac.com/grow-luffa-sponge .Updated: March 25, 2021.

Accessed August 11, 2021.

How to Peel & Cut Dried Luffa Gourds! YouTube, uploaded by Living Traditions Homestead, January 10, 2018. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAtZ0v8cdvk

“Do You Know What’s Growing on Your Loofah?” Skin Care & Beauty. Health Essentials. Cleveland Clinic, March 13, 2020.

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/loofahs-can-double-as-bacterial-breeding-grounds/ . Accessed August 11, 2021.

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