Loofah sponges are hailed for their super-exfoliation qualities, making them a staple in the shower or tub. Like many, you’re probably quite familiar with this essential personal care accessory; however, you probably don’t know much about where it comes from. If you have ever stopped to think about where loofah sponges originate from, like many, you likely assume that this natural scrubber is a product of the ocean. While that’s a great guess (and it totally seems like it could come from the ocean), in reality, it’s actually the dried, fibrous innards of a species of gourd that shares the same name: Luffa acutangula and Luffa aegyptiaca.
Though no one knows exactly where it originated, it is believed to that loofa gourds, which are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, are native to India. They’re relatively easy to plant, grow, and harvest yourself. Surprised to find that loofah gourd is actually a gourd? Want to learn more? Keep on reading to discover more about this interesting crop and how you can grow your very own natural exfoliating sponges.
About Loofah Gourds
- The botanical name for the Loofah (also spelled “luffa” or “luffah”) gourd is Luffa aegyptiaca, Luffa cylindrical, is also referred to as the vegetable sponge or dishcloth gourds.
- An annual tropical or subtropical climbing vine, these gourds are primarily grown for their fibrous tissue skeleton, which is coarse, yet soft, and functions very well as an exfoliator, as the fibrous tissue of the gourds sloths off dead skin cells with ease. They can also commonly used as dish sponges.
- The fruit the plant produces are dark green in color and measure, on average, 61 cm long and have an average diameter of 7.6 cm. The flesh of the gourd is white in color and the texture is soft. White beans or seeds in the center turn black when the fruit ages, and the fibrous tissue becomes coarse.
- The young fruits, when they are green in color and less than 7 inches long, can be consumed as squash. The flavor is similar to zucchini, and it is commonly eaten raw or in stews. They are also a great substitute for fresh cucumbers.
- When the fruit of the plant reaches full maturity, it can be used as an organic bath or dish sponge. Some have also claimed that the organic sponge can effectively treat jaundice.
Loofah Gourd: An Overview
- Loofah gourd is a vegetable that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae (also called “cucurbits” or “gourd”) family, of which there an estimated 965 species in about 95 genera. It is related to pumpkin, squash, and zucchini.
- It is believed that the loofah gourd originated in Asia, and that the Egyptians were the first to use the coarse fibrous tissue of the aged gourds as sponges.
- According to David Erickson, a biologist, the loofah gourd arrived in the Americas approximately 10,000 years ago, though radiocarbon dating has found that it arrived in America more than 9,000 years ago. It was considered an “Old World” plant, meaning that it was native to Asia and Africa.
- Settlers brought the plant to America to domesticate it. It is now considered a “utility” species and it was, in fact, one of the first domesticated plants.
- Though it is now primarily used as a bath or dish sponge and has been dubbed the “poor man’s kitchen and bath sponge”, prior to World War II, it was the loofah gourd was used as filters for ships. It has also been used as stuffing for pillows and as insulation.
- When it is growing, loofah gourd doesn’t look like the loofah sponges that are sold in stores. The fruit hangs from a vine, measures about 12 inches long, and yellow flowers grow along with it.
- As mentioned, the loofah gourd is also edible; however, it can only be consumed while it is young, because as it ages, the fibers dry and the interior of the fruit falls out, leaving behind the coarse, yet soft shell that is used as a sponge.
- If you intend on eating the loofah gourd, only consume the young fruits that are dark green in color and measure less than 7 inches long. This gourd offers a wealth of essential nutrients, including various vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and lipids, including vitamin A, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin C, and potassium.
- Thanks to nutritional content, consuming the fruit of the loofah gourd plant can offer a variety of health benefits. It boosts cardiovascular health, prevents eye disease, diabetes, and muscle pain, reduces the symptoms that are associated with arthritis, combats migraines, treats anemia, strengthens cognitive health, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Of course, it also improves the skin health, and not just when the gourd is used as a sponge, but by consuming it, too.
Growing Loofah Gourd
The large gourd of the loofah gourd plant takes around 90 to 120 days to grow, which is a lot longer than other kinds of gourds. If you are growing the plant so that you can use the gourd as a natural bath or dish sponge, you will need to factor in several extra weeks beyond the time the fruit becomes mature for the tough inner fibers to develop and dry out on the fine before it can be harvested. On average, it takes about 150 to 200 days to achieve gourds that can be used as sponges.
Of course, as mentioned, the loofah gourd can be more than a sponge; it’s also an edible fruit that is highly nutritious and can be consumed raw or cooked. If you are intending on growing the plant to eat, it’s important to note that the fruit can only be consumed when it is young; when the skin is dark green and it is measures less than 7 inches long. Do note, however, that the fruit grows rapidly – around an inch-and-a-half each day – so you’ll want to keep a close eye on it so that you can pick it at the right time.
The loofah gourd is a vine that grows about 30 feet long, so growing it on a trellis is highly recommended. Using a trellis isn’t only recommended to conserve space; when the gourds grow on the ground, they tend to become curved and they are more prone disease and rotting, so growing the vine on a trellis helps to prevent the fruit from curving and reduces the risk of rot and disease.
Because loofah gourd is a tropical or subtropical climbing vine, it has to be grown in climates where the weather is warm for prolonged periods of time. It also needs to be exposed to a minimum of six hours of full sunlight; the more sun, the better. Loofah gourd isn’t picky about the type of soil it is grown in, meaning it can be grown in both acidic and alkaline soil; however, the soil does need to drain well, otherwise the plant will become over-saturated, increasing the risk of rot, disease, and ultimately, the plant will die off.
The vines of the loofah gourd plant grow rapidly and robustly. As such, in order to keep the fruit up off the ground and ensure proper circulation, you will need a very sturdy and durable trellis. The trellises that are used to support cucumbers and pole beans would be ideal. Set four-by-four-inch posts 10 feet apart, and install heavy gauge wires at even intervals, horizontally, starting at the bottom of the posts up to the top. In order to train the plant’s vines, hang string on the posts in a V-formation so that the tendrils of the vines have something they can secure themselves to.
- Beautiful -- Large full-color packet of Luffa (or Loofah) Gourd (Luffa Aegyptiaca) seeds; Grow your own bath sponge! Luffa is easy to grow, with long hanging gourds that can be peeled and used as an all natural exfoliating bath sponge. Young fruit is edible and can be cooked like okra. 90 days for full maturity. Minimum of 2g per packet.
- Smooth Skin -- Luffa’s fibrous texture gently exfoliates the skin without scratching it or causing chemical-induced irritation, removing dead skin cells and making your skin feel smooth and radiant. Let your luffa sponge dry fully between showers and replace it every three or four weeks to avoid bacteria buildup.
- Fun in the Garden -- If grown on an overhead trellis, Luffa gourds will hang down, creating an interesting walkway or feature in your garden.
- Easy to Grow -- Instructions to plant included on each packet with additional growing tips, harvest instructions, recipes, etc. under the “How To” section of our website. Plus we are available to answer your questions as well. If these seeds don’t germinate, we will happily make it “Right” for you.
- Safe Seed -- Sow Right Seeds has taken the Safe Seed Pledge and sells only fresh Non-GMO heirloom seeds that are safe for you and your family.
- Grow Your Own Bath Sponge - The luffa gourd has long hanging fruit and can be cooked like okra when young, or once dried and the skin peeled an eco-friendly kitchen and bath sponge appears.
- Unique, Fun Growing Experience - Luffa vines are a real conversation piece, with long gourds that hang down. Train them over a trellis or arbor and enjoy their striking beauty.
- Grow Now or Later - Plant now or store for future growing seasons. Will remain viable for years if stored in a cool dry location. Each packet has instructions for saving seeds so you can perpetuate your harvest and share with others.
- Easy to Grow - Seeds are packed in a beautiful paper packet with instructions for successful growing and germination in your own home garden. Getting started is simple for both beginner and experienced gardeners.
- Quality Seeds - Safe, non-hybrid non-GMO heirloom seeds proudly sourced in the USA for your family to plant and grow for years to come. Open-pollinated, naturally grown and selected to ensure the best germination rates.
- Grow These Fun Gourds - Three varieties of gourd seeds for planting in your home garden: Bushel Gourds, Dipper Gourds, and Luffa (also known as Loofah) gourds.
- Useful Plants - Why use throwaway plastic options when you can grow your own green bath sponge, bowl, or dipper? These gourds are practical, useful plants to grow in your home garden and have a number of craft uses. You'll love growing them!
- Survival Seed Vault - Grow now or save in long term storage by storing in a place shielded from temperature, moisture, and light. Feel secure knowing you've got seeds ready to plant!
- Variety of Produce - A diverse array of seeds grown and cultivated in the USA for planting and growing in warm weather in your home vegetable garden.
- Individual Seed Packages - Beautiful paper packaging that can be used to mark rows or stored for reference. Info-rich instructions with important details for successful planting, growth, and saving seeds for future years.
Planting Loofah Gourd
Due to the warm temperature and sunlight requirements, and the long growing season, loofah gourd does best when it is seeded directly into the ground. Starting the seed indoors might be tempting, but doing so will tack an additional four to six weeks to the grow time in temperatures that are between 65 and 70 degrees F and full sunlight conditions, which isn’t possible for most home gardeners.
Wait until late spring, when the soil has reached 70 degrees F, to sow the seeds. The soil should be well-draining, and it should be tilled prior and fertilized with organic matter prior to planting the seeds. During the growing season, add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer two to three times. Plant three to four seeds per plant and leave around six feet between each plant.
Watering Loofah Gourd
Once the seeds are planted, you’ll want to keep the soil moist but not soaked until the seedlings have been established. Once established, water the base of the plants about 1 inch weekly when sufficient rain is absent. Avoid watering the vines, as doing so can encourage and spread disease.
Loofah Gourd Propagation
To propagate loofah gourd, collect the seeds from the fruit. Rinse them off and allow them to dry out. Once the seeds are fully dried, set them in an envelope in the cool, dry location, until you are ready to plant them the next growing season.
Whether you want to grow your own natural bath or dish sponges, or your own nutrient-rich fruit, loofah gourd is a great choice. Do note that while the growing season is long and requires patience, by following the tips discussed above, you can successfully grow your own loofah gourd.