Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Luffa - Grow your own bathroom sponge

Luffa acuttangula
Luffa, loofah, Chinese okra
CUCURBITACEAE

This is another of those fantastic sub tropical plants that are largely ignored.  Mostly known for scrubbing purposes, luffa plants are actually gourds, (in the same family as cucumbers, pumpkins and melons) that produce edible flowers, and tasty young fruits - highly prized in some cultures for their versatile, okra like fruits.

If you have read any of my previous posts you will realize that I have a small suburban block and space is of a premium, therefore using plants that have more than one function and cover vertical spaces makes good, common sense gardening - the luffa plant is one these. This fast growing climbing plant makes a wonderful quick screen, you can eat the flowers, young fruit,  and then used the dried fruit as a bathroom sponge.  (As my son-in-law said, "Oh my gourd!")

DESCRIPTION
  • Vigorous-growing annual vines with tendrils that enable them to climb - often to 10m.  Need a strong fence or support to grow up.  Have tough, but light stems.
  • Sow seeds in the spring in the sub tropics.
  • Part of the the zucchini, cucumber family are distinguished by typical yellow flowers.
  • THESE ARE FUN PLANTS!

FOOD

  • Flowers - The bright yellow flowers make a wonderful garnish, and can can be dipped in light batter and fried tempura.
  • Very young luffa fruits - can be diced and used raw in salads.
  • Young fruits - Young fruits can be prepared like courgettes, and can be stir fried with other vegetables to make ratatouille, or sliced and grilled with a little black pepper.  I made them into a Sicillian like caponata.
  • Larger fruits - can be stuffed with rice and vegetables.  Just use young fruit - under about 15cm - otherwise you will be eating bath sponge.

NUTRITION
  • The flesh of these luffa species have been found to contain appreciable amounts of antioxidants.  Luffa extracts are used in several herbal remedies to relieve hay fever symptoms, including sneezing, nasal discharge and blocked nose, and are prescribed to reduce allergic reaction.

OTHER USES
  • Good as a fast growing screen against fences.
  • To make luffa sponges, pick the fruits when they have turned yellow brown and keep dry until the outside skin peels off readily.
  • Shake all the seeds from the inside and you are ready to scrub!!  It's that easy!

Luffa sponge, ready for picking!

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