Most people are genuinely surprised when I show them my luffa gourds growing on a vine or after I’ve harvested, dried and cleaned them for the year. They almost always do not know that this over priced store bought (for most) item is a vegetable you can grow on a trellis or fence in your own garden.

Luffa is the genus name of a group of gourds also known as vegetable sponges, dishcloth gourds, running okra, strainer vine, Chinese okra, California okra, and loofah. Two species are commonly grown in this country.  Angled luffa is L. acutangula, while the smooth-fruited version is L. cylindrica, or the same as L. aegyptica.Luffa is a vegetable that originally came fromIndia.


This annual vegetable requires a long growing season. Gardeners in colder climates need to start seedlings indoors and then transplant them outside after danger of frost has passed.Seeds can be purchased from your local farm store, home and garden store or seed catalog.Luffa gourds can also be eaten like squash or raw like a cucumber when they are young, 4-6 inches long and no bigger in diameter than your thumb.Each gourd will produce a sponge if it is left to mature on the vine.

Luffa gourds are vines and therefore prefer to grow on an 8 to 10 foot (2-3 m) high trellis or fence and the vine length can exceed 20 feet (6m).This past year I planted 2 vines and they each grew approximately 6 feet up a fence and then approx 12 feet in both directions of the fence line.Luffa gourds will flower almost all summer long.Both the male and female flowers grow on the same vine.This is very convenient for gardeners that only have room for one vine.The flower is a beautiful yellow and attracts bees to pollinate.

When the luffa is mature it will start to change color from green to brown or yellow on the vine.The gourds also begin to lose some of their weight at this stage.They can be cut with some of their stem intact or left to dry completely on the vine.In northern climates they can be cut off the vine after the first frost.

I have read that some people peel the gourds when they are still green and then mush and mash out the seeds and rinse out any milky residue from the plant.I find it much easier to either dry them on the vine or dry them in a drying oven when they are harvested a little green.After they are dry, the skin turns brown and easily peels off.The seeds can be shaken out and the gourds can be rinsed clean.I do not bleach my sponges as it does not matter to me that they are a little brown or discolored when I use them.If you are giving them away as gifts, you may want to soak them in a bleach solution to clean them up.Once clean and dried completely, the luffa gourd can be used in the shower for exfoliating or it can also be used just like a regular sponge in the kitchen to clean dishes, or to clean house.

Luffa gourd sponges that grow and dry here at the yardstead are softer than store bought luffa gourd sponges.They are still excellent at exfoliating and cleaning your skin in the shower but just don’t seem quite as abrasive to me.I do not know if this is because they are not treated or bleached in the same way as their store bought cousins.What I do know is that each morning during my shower, as cheesy as it sounds, I am reminded of my commitment to becoming a little more self-sufficient when I use a sponge I grew myself the previous year.