Harvesting and Preparing Luffa Sponges
Fruits are picked when they are dark green at the tender stage, before the angular ridges outside harden and fibrous network develops inside. Once mature, they become bitter and inedible. While cooking, ridges of the loofah can be peeled off thinly but the remaining portion with skin is edible.
When the sponges are ready for harvest they can be peeled. The skin loses green color and becomes looser when mature. The mature sponges tend to dry out and lose water weight. Generally, if the sponges have reached full growth they will be ready to peel. If they are green, the loofah may contain some fiber but be harder to peel. If it falls apart when you try to peel, it doesn’t have enough fiber and is not mature enough. It is always best to peel them as soon as possible if the vine dies. The longer the skin stays on, the darker the sponges will get. Peeling greener luffa is difficult but can be done if needed. Throwing the loofah hard at the ground is one trick. It’s good exercise for relieving your stress too. The bad ones will break apart, while the good ones will crack and loosen the skin. Letting the luffas freeze and thaw once on the vine also makes them easier to peel.
If they have matured they are usually easy to get open. Soaking in water will help the opening process. After peeling, high water pressure from a hose sprayer can remove much of any remaining green and brown coloration. Wash them with soap and water, lay out to dry, rotating occasionally, as the water settles in the lower side. Placing them in sun and wind outside dries them quickly. The sun tends to lighten them some. Hanging or placing the sponges on a screen works well for drying too.
If they are stained, a soak in some bleach and water will lighten them considerably. A wet harvest season tends to cause more rot and brown spots in the sponges. Getting all the seeds out can be a challenge, but the drier the sponges are, the easier the seeds will fall out. Save the best ones for next year. You can also cut open the sponges in any shape you want to remove seeds or make a loofah fiber mat.
Seeds should be allowed to dry and then stored in a cool place. Refrigerate or freeze in a sealed container for long term storage. We’ve had reports of seeds as old as ten years still germinating. If the seeds are allowed to get too hot and dry they become hard. Some hard seeds can still germinate but it may take a month to sprout.
Many Uses of Loofah
These natural spongy wonders of the vegetable world have many uses. They’ll make your skin squeaky clean or shine up your dirty dishes. The luffa flowers and fruits are soft and edible when young and can be cooked and eaten like squash or okra. Loofah has been an important food source in Asian cultures. When mature, the fruits become a tough mass of fiber that makes a great scrubbing sponge. The leaves and vines should not be eaten. When crushed, they produce a bitter compound and smell that seems to repel insects and animals. Some luffa varieties may produce fruits that are too bitter to eat. Peeling the skin off removes some of the bitterness. If it tastes bad, don’t eat it. Edible luffa can be found sometimes in markets with Asian style vegetables.
Luffa are most excellent in the bath or shower. The exfoliating action leaves your skin feeling the cleanest and tightest it could possibly be. Home soap makers can include slices of luffa in their creations to add an extra cleaning boost to their soaps. Shredded or powdered luffa can be added to soaps. A sponge on a handle or rope makes a great back scratcher. They can be cut into many shapes for scrubbing pads, bath mats, and other craft items. Cut the sponges lengthwise and remove the core to make sheets of sponge material.
Luffa sponges are great for washing items like plastic wares. You can use them for cleaning almost everything, including cars, boats, plastic buckets, and anything that needs scrubbed but can’t withstand steel wool. Non stick cookware is one example.
Powdered luffa has also been used in Chinese herbal medicine.
Care and Maintenance of Loofah Sponge
Luffa sponges will last a surprisingly long time if they are allowed to dry between uses, usually a few months. When they stay wet all the time they tend to deteriorate more.
Most commercial sponges are a light color from being bleached. Natural mature sponges can be any shade of brown to white in color. If you want to lighten sponges, then soak them in a weak chlorine bleach solution for about an hour or so. Commercial growers often use a hydrogen peroxide solution. Bleaching them for too long can significantly weaken the fibers. Bleached sponges look better for commerce. They are also cleaner and less likely to contain insects or other organic matter. Slightly green and/or stained ones can benefit from bleaching. Most sponges are fine in their natural state, without bleaching. Exposure to sunlight can also lighten the color some but not as dramatically as bleach. Leaving them in the sun for extended periods gives the loofa a rougher scratchier feel.
Like other sponges, loofah will collect bacteria if it is kept moist and warm, an environment common to bathrooms. For this reason, many people incorporating loofah into their beauty regimen prefer to use it as a dry exfoliating brush before bathing, or to grind it and use it in exfoliating scrubs. As a dry brush, loofah will gently remove the surface layer of dead skin, leaving the skin smooth and conditioned. Loofah can be used as a body sponge in the shower, but it should be allowed to dry out between uses. In the kitchen, loofah makes a great abrasive sponge for removing stubborn food particles from dishes and counter tops. Loofah is also gentle enough to use on delicate things like coated cookware which cannot withstand normal abrasives.
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sources: wisegeek.com, luffa.info, en.wikipedia.org, webindia123.com