Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Growing Loofah: Luffa Squash Travels from Vietnam to Durham Gardens

Here is a picture of me with one of the monstrous
loofahs that are now in my garden. This one is the size of a child!
I probably have about fifty loofah squashes growing in my garden this
 year. I planted two plants by seed and they have taken over my garden!
By Gretchen Van De Carr
Durham Co. Master Gardener

Like most people that have used a loofah(1), or natural sponge, I thought they came from the sea. Well, it's actually a squash from Vietnam! I thought it would be fun to try and grow some of these, so I got seeds, and had only TWO plants in my garden. While young and tender, they are delicious in stir fries or just used like a summer squash. When they are allowed to mature, the skin sort of separates from the squash and you can just peel it off with your hands. After that, you knock out the seeds, let it dry a bit, and TA-DA! you have a wonderful sponge. I plan to cut mine into usable sizes, fill them with an olive oil soap and give them away as gifts...a scrubbie soap!

There are truly at least 50 of these squashes growing like weeds in my garden. WARNING: the vines go CRAZY! I had to cut them back when they attacked my blueberry bushes. Next year I will plant them in the back yard, they are that unruly.

1. Here's the Wikipedia definition: Luffa, Vietnamese luffa, Vietnamese gourd, or Chinese okra are a genus of tropical and subtropical vines classified in the cucumber (Cucurbitaceae) family. In everyday non-technical usage the name, also spelled loofah, usually refers to the fruit of the two species Luffa aegyptiaca and Luffa acutangula. The fruit of these species is cultivated and eaten as a vegetable. The fruit must be harvested at a young stage of development to be edible. The vegetable is popular in China and Vietnam.
2. When the fruit is fully ripened it is very fibrous. The fully developed fruit is the source of the loofah scrubbing sponge, which is used in bathrooms and kitchens as a sponge tool. Luffa are not frost-hardy, and require 150 to 200 warm days to mature.

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