The Highly Versatile Luffa Plant

Edible flowers, "squash," bath sponges, and more: the luffa plant seems to have endless uses.


| March/April 1981



068  luffa plant 1 luffa gourd

A luffa plant gourd can grow 1 1/2 inches a day!


PHOTO: KATHERINE KELLEY/JOHN SHOBE/ MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

There's a remarkable vine that can provide you with a shady trellis, showy flowers, tasty fruit, and perfect bath sponges ... and can be grown as a cash crop to boot! The plant—which is a native of the Asian tropics—is commonly called luffa, but is also known as Chinese loofah, vegetable sponge, and dishcloth gourd. It resembles a cucumber, but unlike that vegetable, luffa's gourdlike fruit—when dried and peeled—reveals a fibrous, spongy skeleton so downright useful that the luffa plant is now cultivated throughout world.

Take Your Choice

The two most popular vegetable sponge species are the ridged luffa (Luffa acutangula ), favored for its tasty fruit, and the common luffa (Luffa cylindrica or Lulls aegyptiaca ), usually grown for its one- to two-foot-long gourds. Both varieties are edible, however, and both will produce sponges on fast-growing annual vines whose coiled tendrils grab out eagerly for support. The plant's tendency to climb makes it an ideal choice for folks who want to grow a shady arbor or a privacy screen along a fence.

However, even if the luffa didn't produce prolific vines and curious sponges, it might still be planted for its large lemon-yellow flowers (some of which are as much as five inches across), which bloom all summer long. (Luffa acutangula's blossoms unfurl in the evening, while those of Lulls aegyptiaca open to the rays of the morning sun.)

Many of the flowers fall off without ever forming gourds, because the plant is monoecious ... that is, it has both male and female blossoms on the same vine. The male blooms drop, while the females remain attached to the developing fruit.

Once pollinated, the vegetables fairly rush toward maturity, growing at the rate of an inch and a half a day. If you want to eat your luffa fruit, pick it young, before its fibers toughen up. In general, luffas are harvested for culinary purposes when they're about four inches long, but the smaller the gourd is, the tenderer its flesh will be.

Stuff a Luffa

The ridged luffa is the tastier of the two varieties, while the common luffa occasionally develops a bitter flavor. (Although this problem is rare, use caution when eating any bitter gourds. Distasteful fruit can be toxic.) Barring any unlikely bitterness though, luffa makes a delicious table vegetable. When the gourds are gherkin-sized they can be added, raw, to salads or cut up in soup like okra. But the real gastronomic utility of this vegetable lies in its ability to substitute for squash or zucchini, or for eggplant in parmigiana. And one especially hearty recipe—adapted from a traditional dish using green peppers—is for stuffed luffa.

lillian
7/28/2016 4:33:27 PM

My Loofa plants are climbing high but bo flowers. What can I do?


roxyhawk
10/21/2013 6:51:19 PM

I've wondered what ever had become of Fly. I'm sure Pardner has long since been gone, but Fly might still be kicking. Then, I found this article. Please contact, if possible. Linda






Crowd at Seven Springs MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Sept. 15-17, 2017
Seven Springs, PA.

With more than 150 workshops, there is no shortage of informative demonstrations and lectures to educate and entertain you over the weekend.

LEARN MORE