The loofah gourd is the most versatile, easy-to-maintain, space-saving crop I have ever grown. Not just a luxurious home spa item, loofah is delicious in many recipes, and is a useful product for household chores.
Before diving into the five basic categories of consumption of the loofah plant, allow me to point out that it’s classified as both a fruit and a vegetable. Botanically, it is a fruit, because the seeds grow on the inside. In the United States, it is legally classified as a vegetable for agricultural and tax purposes, and it is usually treated as a vegetable in the culinary realm.
Loofah requires a long growing period, with the edible gourd presenting at 12 weeks, then hardening into the practical household product after 16 weeks. For that reason, I start the seeds indoors according to the guidelines listed in the Farmer’s Almanac for cucumbers. They will germinate and grow at a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
As soon as outdoor temperatures reach 70 degrees or higher, move the seedlings outdoors during daylight hours. They must be outdoors for several days in a row, preferably one week, before transplant.
Loofah is amazing. Here are five things you can do with it:
1. Food Source
The young fruit are a tasty addition to your pantry. They can be used as substitutes for okra, zucchini, cucumber and squash. The flavor of the naked fruit is mild, although it will absorb sweet or spicy marinades and brine. The young seeds are a great substitute for sunflower seeds in salads, and carry a spicy flavor. Loofah can also be pickled or frozen.
The vines begin fruiting at 12 weeks, and can be harvested as a food source for about four weeks. At 16 weeks, lateral ridges emerge on the gourds, indicating the fibrous network is hardening within the plant. Leave the gourds on the vine as long as possible; they can winter on the vine if you do not need to clear the space.
Mature seeds can be made into a protein-rich snack by soaking in water for two days, then tossing with olive oil and spices. Bake at 250 degrees for one hour, then allow them to cool completely before storing.
2. Kitchen Scrubbers
The gourds can be harvested and used as a household product once they turn brown. I find it easier to allow the gourds to winter on the vine, or store them on racks in my outdoor kitchen. Either way, be certain there is airflow all the way around each gourd.
Once they have dried for several months, the skin comes off with very little effort. I discard the skins, which are brittle, into my compost bin. Shake the seeds into a pillow case or plastic grocery sack to avoid a mess. Next, fill a clean trash bin or storage tub with water, then salt each gourd liberally before placing it in the bath. Some people add a bit of bleach or hydrogen peroxide to the tub to whiten the loofah.
The thinner gourds are great for making pot scrubbers. While they are still wet from the salt bath, cut them into two-inch wide sections with scissors. Allow the slices to dry, and store for future use.
To prepare a pot scrubber, place it in a Ziplock with enough baking soda and dish soap to cover it. I like to add a few drops of orange essential oil, which is a terrific grease cutter. Rinse the loofah completely after use, then return it to the baggie for storage.
3. Bath Products
The thickest gourds can be made into bath mittens. Using scissors, cut them into slices four inches wide, then cut out the centers. Set the centers aside, remaining seeds and all, for kindling. The loofah ring that is left can be slipped over your hand and used as a washcloth.
The first one or two uses may be a bit rough for sensitive skin, but the loofah softens up considerably after that. If you rinse it well and hang it to dry between uses, it will last several months. (Those who are worried about germs can simply pop a dampened bath mitten into the microwave or boiling water for 45 seconds.)
The skinny ends of the gourds can be cut into small pieces and used as one-time body scrubs. Place the loofah pieces inside a repurposed candle holder, then fill it with salt. (Sea salt is particularly luxurious, but table salt works just as well, at a fraction of the price.) Next, pour in as much olive oil or melted coconut oil as the jar will take, and cover it with the lid. You might also consider adding ground oatmeal, honey or coffee beans into the mix.
Loofah which are not fibrous enough to use as scrubbers or washcloths can be dried, then ground into powder for use in home spa products. Find a recipe for a 100 percent coconut oil soap. Add ground loofah to the soap at trace, at 70 percent of the weight of the recipe, then pour into ice cube trays. Once cured for several months, the cubes are a very hard alternative to pumice stone.
4. Tough to Clean Solutions
Save loofah scraps for tough cleaning solutions in the garage. If you have squares at least one-by-one inch, dry them out and store in a paper sack in a cupboard. They can be dipped in gasoline to clean greasy car parts, tools and spills.
You might also consider dicing the spare pieces, mixing them in Epsom salt and sugar, and sprinkling onto an icy sidewalk or driveway. The fibers create traction while the Epson salt and sugar work to melt the ice.
5. Starter Logs and Kindling
Gourds that did not form properly can be saved as starter logs. Store them on the woodpile or another safe place. Before use, squeeze the gourd to create cracks in the skin. Spray hairspray into the fibers. You can also rub old lipstick onto the gourd to accelerate the fire, or start it without accelerant.
Alternatively, you can peel and soak misshapen gourds as described earlier. While it’s still damp, cut it into pieces with scissors, then shove the pieces into a small muslin bag. A large gourd can easily fit within a three-inch by four-inch bag. Hang the bag until dry, then store in your car, home, and go bags to use as emergency kindling. One gourd can be used to start several fires.