Growing Your Own Luffa

Originally appeared at National Gardening Bureau

Growing your own supply of natural sponges is easy and fun.

Luffa (loofah) sponges do not come from the sea but from the vegetable garden. These natural scrubbers belong in the family of plants that include gourds, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons. They are most closely related to cucumbers in appearance and growing habits. They can be used as household scrubbers, body exfoliators, and young luffas are even edible and delicious when added to simple dishes and stir-fry recipes. If you added luffas to your garden this year Fall is the time for harvest. They may also be seen for sale at local farm stands and natural food stores. You may also find local seeds for sale that you can save for next year and start your own healthy skincare spot in your garden.

Not a new plant, Luffas are actually an old-world one that has been used and cultivated since ancient times. The Egyptians grew these gourds for food and also used the fibrous skeleton to make shoes and sandals. Prior to World War II luffas were also used on ships as filters and also as insulation material. Today they are best known as scrubbers and a food source and grown and used all over the world.
Luffa Flowers are a great draw for pollinators.
Luffa is the perfect addition to your garden space. They are usable plants, edible, compostable and pollinators love their bright yellow flowers. They are also easy to grow if you give them plenty of sunshine, water, and a place to climb.
The botanical name of luffa is Luffa aegyptiaca and you can find seeds at most garden shops and online. Also, growers will gladly sell or give you local seeds as each gourd produces 100- 200 seeds depending on size. The seeds are large and black and easy to handle they do have a hard outer shell.
Many people like to start their seeds inside before planting as it does take almost ninety days to produce a full-grown sponge and depending on where you live you may not have this long of a growing season outdoors. The best method for starting your seeds is to clip them slightly at their base (rounded end of seed). Then soak the seeds for 24 hours. Wrap the soaked seeds in a piece of damp paper towel and place them inside a plastic bag and set them in a warm spot. Check your seeds in about a week to ten days they should have sprouted. Luffa seeds can take a few weeks to germinate so this method works well as you know your seeds have sprouted before planting.
You want to plant your seeds one inch deep in rich soil. This can be directly in the ground or in a container with good drainage. Make sure you have a trellis or sturdy fence nearby as luffas love to climb. Water deeply every seven days to encourage strong roots and fertilize when you see the first flowers form. The female flowers after pollination will produce the luffas. Luffas can cross-pollinate with other luffa varieties but they will not with other gourds so you can safely plant them next to other plants. In fact, luffas love to be planted next to pollinator-friendly plants such as lavender.
Luffa Plants in the Garden should always have a trellis near by
Pick the green luffa when they are 6 inches long for use in recipes
When your luffas are about six inches long they can be picked and eaten like summer squash or zucchini. Simply peel the skin and chop them up and add to simple recipes. Save the green peels as they make wonderful and cleansing facial and body scrubs that can be used in place of soap to cleanse your skin. They are also compostable.
When your luffa gourds turn brown and are dry to the touch you can pick them from the vine and let them dry for about 1-2 weeks. Cut off the ends of your gourd and shake out the black seeds and save these for next year or for sharing. Soak the gourd in fresh water and gently peel off the outer skin. The inner fibrous skeleton is what you want to use as your “Sponge.” Some people soak their sponges in a mild bleach solution to whiten them but this is not necessary. It is a matter of personal preference.
Drying your luffa when it turns brown by leaving on the trellis
The most important thing when using and caring for your luffa sponge is to keep it clean and dry. Bacteria can grow in a warm moist environment and you do not want that on a sponge you are using on your skin. Once a week rinse your luffa and clean it by either boiling it in a pot of water on the stovetop, placing it in the top rack of your dishwasher or in the washing machine with a load of towels. Air dry your luffa thoroughly and it should last several months to a year. When you are done with your sponge you can compost it or place it in the bottom of your flowerpots before planting to help them retain moisture.

Here are a few simple recipes for you to enjoy:

Make your own Green Luffa Skin Cleanser

Green Luffa Skin Cleanser

The green outer skin of the luffa plant is cleansing and naturally astringent much like cucumber peels and can be used to cleanse and freshen your skin. This simple skin cleanser is a good replacement for soap and can be used by all skin types. Because it contains fresh foods it should be stored in the refrigerator between uses. Yield: 8 ounces

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup green luffa peels
  • 1 Tablespoon aloe vera gel
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1-2 Tablespoons water

Directions: 

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until you have a smooth, green mixture. Pour into a clean container with a tight-fitting lid.

Massage into damp skin and rinse well with warm water.

Using Luffa Slices to make your own soap.

Luffa Soap

These are gentle scrubbing bars that are useful in cleaning your hands after a day of gardening. You can also use them to cleanse your whole body but be careful around sensitive areas. The natural luffa sponge helps exfoliate dead skin cells and surface impurities, leaving your skin clean, soft, and smooth. Do not use this soap to wash your face, as it may be too harsh. Use a serrated bread knife to slice the dried luffa gourd. You can use a variety of kitchen items as soap molds: muffin tins, plastic dishes, mini loaf pans, and clean food containers. Yield: 8 ounces, 3-4 bars of luffa soap

Ingredients: 

  • 2 bars of pure natural soap, such as Castile, or coconut oil
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable glycerin
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 4 slices dried luffa sponge, 1/2 inch thick

Directions: 

Place the luffa slices on an oiled cookie sheet or inside a greased soap mold. In a double boiler gently heat the soap, glycerin, and water until you have a thick mixture and all the soap is melted. Spoon the melted soap inside your luffa slices and allow it to harden. Trim your soaps with a sharp knife.

Use as you would a luffa sponge or any scrubbing bar of soap. Avoid broken skin or sensitive areas.

Scrambled Eggs and Luffa

Young luffa gourds or also called “Chinese okra” can be found in some Asian markets and make a tasty addition to stir fry recipes. You can also use your own young plants in this recipe. Pick them when they are green and around 6 inches in length. Slice them on the diagonal in small one-inch pieces. Yield: 16 ounces, 2 servings

Ingredients: 

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 cups luffa gourd, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir until light brown and aromatic. Add luffa and stir until softened about 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and cook until set. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice or steamed vegetables.

Are you going to grow luffa in your garden?

Written By: Janice Cox
Author of: Beautiful Luffa

“This post is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members. Please credit and link to National Garden Bureau and author member when using all or parts of this article.”

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