The loofah. Most people use it for showering. It’s generally used for exfoliating dead skin and can also be used as a sponge, said Tom Colgan, owner of Loofah by the Inch.
But where did it originate? There are many answers, and a few misconceptions.
“Many people still think that loofah comes from the sea,” Colgan said in an e-mail.
Loofah by the Inch is a store that sells loofah in Los Angeles.
Loofah, also spelled “luffa,” is a vegetable in the Cucurbitaceae family. It’s considered a gourd, and is related to the pumpkin and squash,, according to www.americangourdsociety.org.
The gourd is believed to have originated in Asia, and Egyptians used it as a sponge, according to the Web site.
According to an article written by biologist David Erickson and published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America, the loofah traveled to America about 10,000 years ago and was considered an “Old World” plant, meaning it is native to Asia and Africa.
People who settled in America brought the plant to domesticate it, according to the article. It’s considered a “utility” species and was one of the first plants to be domesticated. Radiocarbon dating has shown the gourd has been in America for over 9,000 years, according to the article.
It’s now used mostly as sponges. However, its gourd was used as filters on ships prior to World War II, according to www. foodreference.com. It has also been used to stuff pillows and for insulation.
Although it originated in Asia, it is now a very important part of South American agriculture, according to www.loofashop.com. It’s called the “poor man’s kitchen and bath sponge,” because it can scrub the kitchen and is used as a bathing tool.
Over 11,000 individuals cultivate the loofah vegetable, and many of these individuals are learning to cultivate the plant without harming the environment, according to www.loofashop.com. It can offer 50 percent more income than cotton or grain crops.
When grown, it doesn’t look like loofah found in stores. It’s usually a foot long and has a yellow flower that grows with it. The plant produces male flowers first, so the first season does not produce fruit.
“It grows on a vine,” Colgan said in an e-mail, “and like a cucumber, gourd or pumpkin, it’s edible,” .
But don’t rush out and take a bite out of a loofah. It’s only edible when young, Colgan saidl. As it matures, the fibers dry out, causing the insides to fall out. The hard shell left over can then be used as a sponge.
While loofah can be found in stores, it can be fun to grow one.
According to www.kidsgardening.com, a loofah needs about 100 to 180 days to mature and it grows best if the soil temperature is about 70 degrees Fahreneheit.
It isn’t tolerant of cold weather, so it’s not best to grow one in Wisconsin. If you do, make sure it’s before the first frost. Once harvested, store in a dry, dark area. Once dry, it can be used as a sponge.
If that fails, there’s always a store nearby.