At first I had to admit that I was not familiar with the plant. But one of my sons reminded me that he remembered how his grandfather, my father, had planted some in order to show the grandchildren how versatile and useful the plant was in the olden days.
Some of us may remember the plant as the sponge plant, while others may remember it as a kind of squash or cucumber. Luffa is also spelled loofah, loofa, and loufa. It is also called rag gourd and vegetable sponge. In Canada it is called Chinese okra.
The luffa’s fruit, as well as the buds and flowers of the plant, are edible. The very young fruits can be cooked and eaten just like squash and okra. The fruit must be eaten when it is young, otherwise it becomes tough. Like the cucumber, the fruit turns yellowish and becomes bitter as it matures. At maturity the fruit is over a foot long.
In the olden days luffa sponges were great for washing items such as large pots. It was used primarily because special cleaning products were not available or practical. The dried sponge was also used as a body scrub. In order to make sponges, the mature fruit was cut lengthwise, the core removed and allowed to dry, to make sheets of sponge. When paint brushes were not available, the sponge sheets were used as a substitute.
Scientists have identified a substance in the plant called luffeine that seems to have some medical possibilities. The seeds have been used in Egypt and China for years in traditional herbal medicine. In some countries the juice of the lubba is used as a remedy for jaundice.
The luffa sponge is beginning to regain its popularity since it is environmentally friendly, and people are looking for alternatives to using the skeleton of animals for its sponges.
Sponges from the gulf and oceans have been used by humans for thousands of years as padding material and for cleaning purposes. But those animals have been so over-fished that industries have been forced to look elsewhere for synthetic materials as replacements.
If any of the local readers of this article grow some luffa plants and may have seeds, let me know so I can forward the information to one of my neighbors.
(Comments and suggestions about Les Vieux Temps articles are always appreciated. Please call 337-754-9980 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)