If you are looking for something really different and fun to grow try loofahs, sometimes known as sponge gourds, best known for the bath sponges made from its mature fruit yet in some parts of the world prized as a vegetable.
Did you know that loofah sponges are made from a vegetable? Even better, you can grow them for cleaning and eating!
You’ve probably had or used a loofah sponge in your life, whether in the bath or for cleaning around the house. But did you know it was made from a vegetable?
Luffa aegyptiaca and Luffa acutangula, also known as loofah, vegetable sponge or dishcloth gourds, are grown mainly for their useful fibrous tissue skeleton.
Young fruits can be eaten as squash, used in stews or even used in place of cucumbers. The luffa gourd plant is an annual tropical or subtropical climbing vine. When the fruit section of the plant matures, it can be used as an organic bath or kitchen sponge.
Some people even use the juice of this very beneficial plant to treat jaundice.
While much of the marketing of loofahs shows the sponge in a sea-side setting, surrounded by seashells and the like, loofahs are the fibrous flesh of the mature luffa gourd—and you can grow them in your garden but you will need plenty of sunshine.
How to grow loofahs
Growing these plants is an enjoyable project but not one for the impatient. Loofahs are cold sensitive and take a long time to mature into a dried sponge, so loofah gourd planting shouldn’t be attempted if you don’t have the patience to wait. Sow gourd eight inches apart along a fence as soon as the ground is warm enough to work and all danger of frost has passed in spring.
To facilitate germination, scrape the seed coat with a file or allow seeds to soak for at least 24 hours. Seeds are very slow to sprout so gardeners should not lose faith. Seeds can also be started indoors several weeks before the last frost.
Plant one to three plants in a hill and space hills six feet apart.
Loofahs like full sun and a well-drained but moist soil, enriched with plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. They are grown like a winter squash or hard-shelled gourd and their long (30 feet isn’t unusual) vigorous vines need lots of room to roam or a sturdy trellis to clamber over.
The very first fruits that appear on the vine should be allowed to mature into sponges
The sponges are mature and ready to pick when the green skin has turned dark yellow or brown and starts to separate from the fibre inside, and the fruit feels lightweight. Leave the fruit hanging on the vine as long as possible for maximum sponge development, but be sure to pick and peel the fruit immediately if they get hit by frost. Fruit that isn’t fully mature won’t have enough tough fibre to make a good sponge.
The first step to revealing your sponge is to peel off the tough outer skin: if it is already cracked you can pull it off in pieces, if it is intact try squashing the fruit gently until cracks appear and then extending the cracks by squeezing the fruit and pulling at the torn edges of the skin with your thumbs. If the skin is very dry, soaking the fruit in water for a few minutes may make it easier to dislodge the skin.
Once the skin has been removed, shake out the seeds.
Finally, dry the washed sponges in the sun, turning them frequently, until completely dry. Store in a cloth bag to prevent them from getting dusty and they will keep for years.
Loofahs for washing up?
If you are keen to join the drive to reduce plastic in our homes then you can join the growing number who successfully use loofahs as an alternative to dish sponges and scourers for washing up.