We are familiar with the organic scrub we use to exfoliate our skin which we call loofah, but are we familiar with luffa? Luffa is a vine that belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae. The fruit of this plant is used to make loofah. The fruit of luffa is actually edible when harvested at a young age. This is a common fare in Asian and African countries.
People call luffa using many different names such as sponge gourd, bath sponge, vegetable sponge, rag gourd, and wild vegetable sponge. Germans call luffa netzgurke. In Hindu, it is dhodka. In Korean, it is su sa mi oe. The French call it courge torchon, while the Russians call it ljufa. Luffa is known in China as sīguā and oyong in Indonesia. In the Philippines, luffa is locally known as patola. Japanese call luffa hechima.
The juice of luffa leaves is used to cure amenorrhea. In India, the juice of luffa leaves is used to treat snake bites and dysentery. In the Philippines, orchitis is treated using luffa leaves. The extracts of root and vine help prevent tooth decay. In Western Uganda, the extract of luffa leaves is used to induce labor during childbirth.
Species: C. argyrosperma
Binomial name: Cucurbita argyrosperma
- Luffa traces its etymological origin from an Egyptian Arabic word. European botanists coined the term in the 17th century.
- Others call luffa “Chinese okra”.
- Hugh Leonard, from Danville, US, became a Guinness World Record holder in 1999 after growing the longest luffa measuring 20 1/2” X 16 1/2” X 5 1/2”.
Luffa Buying Guide
When buying luffa, choose one that is firm. Check the skin and pick one which is unblemished and smooth. Marks, holes, discoloration, or anything unnatural on the luffa’s skin may be a sign that it is not in good condition, while rough, hard skin indicates that the luffa is already old/mature, which is not ideal for cooking/eating. Buy the longest luffa you can find, which would be around 10 inches. Some use the technique of snapping the fin of the luffa to check its freshness. If there is a crisp snap when you do this, it means the luffa is fresh. If the fins are softer and lack crispiness, this may suggest that the luffa is matured and probably not ideal for cooking anymore.
If you are buying seeds to plant luffa, there are currently three varieties:
- Angled luffa
- Smooth luffa
- Taiwan luffa
Luffa Production & Farming in Texas
It is ideal that you are growing luffa during the summer because it is slow to grow during a cool season. It thrives well if there is enough space that will allow it to grow and move. Luffa requires full sunlight – at least six hours a day. It prefers soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 that is well-draining. Water 1 inch per week once the seedlings are established and be careful not to water the veins. Luffa will benefit greatly if you add nitrogen-rich fertilizer two to three times during the growing season.
Luffa can grow in USDA Hardiness Zone 7 to 10B. The hardiness zone spectrum covering Texas ranges from 6 to 9B. This means that this bushy plant that can grow up to 30 feet can grow in Texas.
The two main pests that attack luffa are cucumber beetles and spider mites.
- Spider mites – To get rid of spider mites, use neem oil and apply it through foliar spraying. It contains azadirachtin which is effective against spider mites. You can also use horticultural oil (which also targets aphids and thrips). Pests die after exposure to horticultural oil due to suffocation since the oil blocks the spiracles through which insects breathe. Another effect of horticultural oils is disrupting the metabolism of insect eggs. Lastly, horticultural oils disrupt the insect’s ability to feed. As a result, the insect starves to death. Using pyrethrin spray is also an effective method against spider mites. Another option is spinosad, a mixture of two chemicals called spinosyn A and spinosyn D typically used to control a wide variety of pests.
- Cucumber beetles – Use B. bassiana sprays. If immediate action and control are necessary, use pyrethrin or azadirachtin insecticide.
Today, luffa is grown in different tropical and subtropical areas all around the world. It is cultivated in the US and many Asian and African countries.
Common to fruits and vegetables of the same size or larger, a luffa is usually sold without any type of packaging, primarily because its thick skin and rind already provide it with a layer of protection, keeping the flesh inside safe from any potential contamination while out on display.
Unlike other gourds, eating luffa is tricky because this fruit is known to be fickle in terms of how it tastes. It may taste great and tender today, but some from the same batch might taste terrible one day later. Eating a fresh, young luffa is like eating a cucumber, only softer. It also has a crispiness to it that is similar to zucchini. You can taste the mildly sweet flavor especially after luffa has been cooked. It tastes like a zucchini.
There is a belief that pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding to avoid eating excessive amounts of luffa. There is no available scientific data on whether this is medically valid or not.
Luffa will keep for a couple of days at room temperature and up to seven days wrapped in paper in the refrigerator. If you are storing luffa, always remember that these will rot quickly if the skin is moist. This is the reason why it is better to wrap it in paper than plastic. Consider also that between the rough-textured variety and the smooth variety, it is the smooth variety that keeps a bit better in the refrigerator, so don’t expect they both end up in the same condition after undergoing cold storage.
Asian and African countries have a variety of ways on how to cook luffa. You can steam it or stir-fry it along with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and chicken. You can also add this to your stew cooked with coconut milk and fish. You can also cook this with wheat flour noodles and ground pork. Vietnamese call luffa “mướp hương” which is a common ingredient in Vietnamese soups and stir-fried dishes.
If you have a luffa plant, know that you can eat not just the fruit but the buds and flowers as well. They are edible. The flowers of a luffa plant are commonly added to fresh salads. In some places, they even use the skin to make chutneys.
Luffa’s major nutrients include vitamin A, carbohydrates, vitamin B, manganese, and potassium. People suffering from colds can get better by eating luffa, which also helps in alleviating nasal swelling and sinus problems. Luffa is also used to treat arthritis pain, muscle pain, chest pain, and even irregular menstrual periods. People with anemia and skin problems also look to luffa for an organic and natural solution. People also believe that eating luffa is good for brain health.