Grow Your Own Loofah Sponge
Where Do Loofah Sponges Come From?
You can grow your own loofah sponge! Growing a loofah (also known as a luffa, lufah, sponge gourd, patola, or Chinese Okra) requires patience though. It’s an atypical, subtropical plant that grows slower than most gourds. Additionally, the seeds can be slow to germinate. Still, this is a great, fun project the whole family can enjoy. It also makes a great lesson in the classroom. Ultimately, you’ll end up with a loofah you can actually use or at least a new culinary experience!
The loofah is a climbing vine that has fruit. The vine can reach up to 30 feet long. The fruit, gourds, can be turned into sponges. If you live in a climate that supports at least 4 months of 70 degree Fahrenheit or warmer weather, read on!
Materials Needed to Grow a Loofah
- 3-4 dark loofah seeds (Luffa acutangula, cylindrica, aegyptiaca, and aegyptica)
- cool water
- a small bowl
- a five-gallon bucket
- a bag or box for storage
Growing a Loofah Instructions
- Find an outdoor place where the vine can climb up when it grows. The vine could grow as far as 30 feet, so you’ll need a location that can accommodate that. A wall, fence, or a strong trellis is great for this purpose. Loofahs need a lot of sun, so make sure that the location provides this.
- Soak the loofah seeds in a bowl of water for about 6-10 hours.
- When the threat of frost is over and it is not expected for at least the next 120 days, bury 4-5 seeds about half an inch below the surface of the soil. The seeds should be buried within a few inches of the base of the wall, fence, or trellis. Loofah plants thrive in soil that has a neutral ph or is slightly alkaline. If your soil is acidic, adding a bit of lime, per the instructions of the bag, might be beneficial. Note: If you are doing this in a classroom, no fruit will be produced without your assistance in pollinating the flowers. Pollination has to occur before a fruit forms. Bees and other insects of all types are attracted to yellow flowers, and they perform all of the work if the plant is outside. For this reason, it is far easier to grow productive plants outside. Besides that, who has 30 feet in their classroom? On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what a teacher would want for a great science fair exhibit or open house project.
- Water the area immediately, and continue to do so every day. Keep the soil moist. Never allow the area to get completely dry or saturated. In about 3 weeks or less, you should see the vine! If not, wait one more week, and try again if necessary.
- As the vine begins to grow, it’s important to maintain it like you would any other plant in your garden. Keep weeds and pests off of it.
- In about 90 days, you’ll probably start to see a green fruit, a gourd. It might look like a cucumber. It will have thin, tight skin, and it is edible. Feel free to try it in your favorite recipes. In China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Manipur, and India, the loofah is often eaten as a green vegetable. This can only occur when the fruit is young, and the sponge hasn’t become tough.
- If the fruit ripens longer, its skin will turn brown and loose. When its skin grows lighter, due to the water drying, the fruit will be fully developed. At this point, you’re ready to make a loofah sponge!
- The first step is to remove the fruit from the vine. You can do this by twisting the vine or cutting it off of the vine. Either way is fine.
- At this point, you’ll need to remove the skin. This can be accomplished by hitting the entire fruit against something hard, perhaps the ground. By doing this, you should be able to remove the skin and harvest next year’s seeds. The bottom tip of the fruit can be removed, so you can shake the seeds out like a salt shaker. At this point, you should be able to peel off any remaining skin, exposing the sponge inside.
- Thoroughly rinse the sponge. A hose sprayer’s water pressure is typically ideal for this purpose.
- At this point, you’ll need a cup of bleach. The bleach is only necessary, because it removes the sponge’s natural color and make is white. Add one cup of bleach to 3-4 gallons of cool water, in one five-gallon bucket. Soak the sponge for 20-30 minutes. Additional time is typically unnecessary and can cause damage to the sponge. Mix it with 4 gallons of water. Soak the sponge in the mixture for no more than 30 minutes.
- Thoroughly rinse the sponge off with cool water.
- Allow the sponge to dry completely before using it. Many people prefer to dry their loofahs in the sun. The sunlight might lighten the loofah’s color. This is normal. Leaving it in the sunlight for longer periods might change the texture of the loofah and make if feel rougher, so check on your loofah from time to time.
- Store dry loofahs in a bag or box. Don’t let dust settle on them. By storing your loofahs this way, they can be kept for years.
- Enjoy your new loofah sponge!
Did you know that certain parts of the loofah can be used to make furniture and even houses? In Paraguay and other parts of the world, panels are often made out of loofah. Loofah is combined with other vegetable products and recycled plastic. The panels can then be used in construction. In some countries, the loofah is even used for medicinal purposes, typically as a remedy for jaundice. When used as a jaundice treatment, the juice is obtained by pounding the loofah and filtering the fiber off the juice.
Enjoy your new loofah sponge!