Luffa / Loofah
Loofah / Luffa aegyptiaca
The loofah plant is an annual vine that can grow to 30 feet in length.1 About 3 months after planting, the loofah produces yellow flowers that are 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The fruit is slender and green and can grow up to 2 feet in length.2 The young fruit looks like cucumber or okra and as it ages, it dries out and the skin turns brown and paper-like2 with a thicker bottom end.3 The skin can be peeled off leaving only the skeleton which is the commonly known exfoliant sponge.1 The L. aegyptiaca plant is native to tropical Africa and Asia, but now also grows in parts of North and South America.4
History and Cultural Significance
In African traditional medicine, a glass of the crushed roots and leaves is used to treat stomach discomfort.5 Externally the dried sponge is used in exfoliating treatments.4 Scrubbing with the loofah promotes skin circulation.3
The “sponge” is finding other uses as cushioning in pillows, saddles and slippers as well as being a good candidate for packing material due to its biodegradability.6 The seeds are pressed for oil to be used in cooking.4 The young fruits can be sliced up, cooked and eaten like squash or okra in soups, stir-fries or baked dishes.1,3
One trial is studying the possibility of using the dried loofah sponge to clean up oil spills.7
Loofah is grown commercially in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Brazil and the Caribbean.8 In the last decade, it has also been gaining popularity as a domestic crop in the United States. The global production is largely unquantified, but easily runs several million pounds annually.7
1 Luffa.info homepage. 2005. Available at: http://www.luffa.info. Accessed November 30, 2005.
2 Christman S. Luffa aegyptiaca. Floridata web site. 2003. Available at: http://www.floridata.com/ref/l/luff_aeg.cfm. Accessed December 1, 2005.
3 Wood R. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin Books; 1999.
4 Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
5 Neuwinger H. African Traditional Medicine: A Dictionary of Plant Use and Applications. Stuttgart, Germany: Medpharm; 2000.
6 Janick J, Simon J, eds. New Crops. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Incorporated; 1993.
7 Annunciado T, Sydenstricker T, Amico S. Experimental investigation of various vegetable fibers as sorbent materials for oil spills. Mar Pollut Bull. November 2005;50(11):1340-1346.
8 Market Information Part Two: directory of commodities. Foodnet web site. 2005. Available at: http://www.foodnet.cgiar.org/market/Tropcomm/part2jo.htm. Accessed December 1, 2005.