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You probably used one sponge of loofah at least once in your life, whether in the bathtub or to clean the house. But do you know that loofah is made with a vegetable?
While much of the commercialization of sponges shows the sponge in a marine environment, surrounded by shells and similar objects, in reality loofah sponges are not the remains of an ocean creature (unlike sea sponges), but the fibrous part of the ripe loofah squash that ... you can also grow in your home garden. But how?
What is loofah
Let's start with order and remember that the loofah refers to two species of pumpkin: the Luffa aegyptiaca and the Luffa acutangular or Luffa cyclindrica.
The first type has long crests that run the length of the fruit, while the second, smooth, has a rounder profile, with shallow folds that run along its extension. The species are used quite interchangeably and both are vigorous annual vines with showy yellow flowers. Pumpkins belong to the family of Cucurbitaceae, and they have as cousins pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, melons.
How to grow loofah
The loofah must be grown ine full sun on well-drained but moist soil, enriched with abundant compost or manure. It is grown as a winter squash or hard-shelled squash, and their long, vigorous vines need plenty of space, as well as a sturdy trellis to climb.
Remember also that loofahs need a long season to ripen (from 150 to 200 warm days), so in the northernmost areas of Italy it is good to plant the seeds in pots in fairly warm environments, before transplanting them to the open when the weather is warm and stable.
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Where to buy the loofah
In a good nursery or local garden center you can generally buy them loofah seeds. If not, you can order them online, even on Amazon.
How to collect loofah for sponges
To harvest the loofah gourds to make sponges, simply let them wilt on the vine before harvesting.
Therefore, the first fruits that appear on the vine should be allowed to ripen: they are ripe and ready to harvest when the green skin has turned dark yellow or dark brown and begins to separate from the internal fiber, and the fruit is light.
In this context, leave the fruits hanging on the vine for as long as possible for the maximum development of the sponge fiber, but be sure to pick and peel the fruit immediately if it gets hit by frost.
How to prepare the loofah sponge
The first step to producing good loofah sponge is to peel off the outer, tough skin. If it is already cracked, you can take it out in pieces. If it is intact, try gently squeezing the fruit until cracks appear and then extend the cracks by squeezing the fruit and pulling the torn edges of the skin with your thumbs. If the peel is very dry, soaking the fruit in water for a few minutes can make it easier to remove.
Once the peel has been removed, shake the seeds (if they are bulky, spread some of them on a paper towel and dry them at room temperature for a few days, and then keep them for next year sowing). Then wash the sap of the sponge with a strong jet of water or in a bucket of water with a little dish soap. If there are dark spots, you can treat a sponge with a non-chlorine bleach to get a more even light brown color.
Finally, dry the washed sponges in the sun, turning them frequently, until completely dry. Store in a cloth bag to prevent them from getting dusty and keeping for years.
Use of loofah sponges
You can use the whole loofah sponges, cut flat sections from the outer layer to scrub tampons, or cut them into slices across to make smaller scrubs. It is also possible to dry the fiber to use it to make filters, placemats, coasters, insoles, sandals and other products.
Dermatologists recommend making sure that the loofah dries completely between uses and using only one loofah for three or four weeks before replacing it with a new one. Alternatively, you can soak your favorite loofah in a diluted bleach solution once a week to keep it from becoming a germ hotel!