Luffa, Lufa, Loufa - A Versatile Plant
Luffa Sponges are good for the Skin
Luffa Species - the Sponge Gourd
The versatile Luffa Gourd is an easy to grow member of the Cucurbit (squash) family. The pithy interior of a dried mature Luffa can be used as a therapeutic bath sponge or back scrubber. Young Luffas (also called Chinese Okra) are delicious and can be used in okra dishes.
We have been successfully growing Luffa aegyptiaca since the 1970s. We would like to give you tips on growing and using the wonderful sponge gourds.
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Luffa Sponge Uses
Luffas have attractive flowers and the mature gourd contains a spongy pith which makes excellent health and beauty sponges. It is also called, "dish rag gourd" because the sponges can be used to scrub dishes and other surfaces without marring them.
They are quite expensive to buy in beauty supply stores, but when you grow them yourself they cost a few pennies each. Luffa sponges make great gifts when combined with bath salts or herbal soap. Just arrange them in a basket with some wash cloths and a few candles and voila, you have a thoughtful gift.
Mature Luffa Sponge Gourd
How to Grow Luffa Sponge Gourd
Luffa gourds are easy to grow from seed. We always keep seed from each year, for planting on the next. The seeds will keep for several years and I have successfully grown Luffas from seed that was 4-5 years old.
If you want to get an early start, plant the flat black seeds in pots in a greenhouse or sunny window about 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. Luffas are members of the Cucurbit family. Most species of this family need ground temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit to sprout.
Plant the luffas in hills or a row. Dig a hole about 2 feet deep and add well rotted manure and /or compost. Work it in and fill the hole back up with good garden soil. Plant the seeds or young plants and form a slight indentation in the soil so that the water will be held around the plants. Water well.
The vines grow vigorously in warm weather, so some sort of support must be provided. A trellis, fence or even a tree will suffice. Don't be surprised if the vines grow over 20 feet.
As with most members of the Cucurbit family, fertile well-drained soil, amended with well rotted manure is required.
In a few weeks, the vines will begin to run and before you know it, flower buds will appear. There are male and female flowers. The large, yellow male flowers form clusters. The smaller female flowers appear on the end of the small fruits.
The gourds can be eaten like okra when they are still green. If you want sponges, you must let the gourds mature on the vine until the skin is tan or brownish.
Then pick them and peel the skin off and shake the seeds out. Be sure to save the seeds for the following year. (See the video below about peeling a luffa.)
Luffa vines grow quite long and can be trained onto trellises or fences. They make excellent sustainable screens. We have used sponge gourd vines on a trellis to block the view of our chicken coop.
One year, when we lived in the suburbs, the vines did so well that they got away from us and climbed up into a neighbors pecan tree. He didn't notice it until fall, when the tree leaves fell to reveal 20 or more sponge gourds hanging from the tree.
Our Luffa "Tree"
Peeling the Luffa Gourd to Reveal the Sponge Video
Luffa Sponge Care
Luffa sponges are an organic product and should be kept dry in between uses. The video below gives you some tips about cleaning and caring for loofah sponges.
Caring for a Luffa Sponge
More links to Luffa and Other Cucurbits
- Sustainable Gardening a la Rabbit Hill
When Robert Lawson wrote and illustrated Rabbit Hill over 60 years ago he was ahead of his time in the way he felt about sharing his part of this earth with other creatures.
© 2011 Yvonne L. B.
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