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9 March 2009

Processing luffas (loofahs)

They look ugly. The dry skin is brown with blotches of mildew, they look heavy but they are deceptively light. Yes, I'm talking about our luffas. We have a very small crop this year, mainly, I think, due to the amount of summer rain we had. But I'm grateful for whatever grows and they'll do Hanno and I, plus our guests for the coming year. There are about 10 luffas almost ready to harvest but two have been waiting for me on the outside table for about a week after dropping off the vine. So today I have photos of what I did with them yesterday. It's a simple thing to skin them, save the seeds and clean them well enough for use. The entire process took me about 10 minutes yesterday.

The trick to easy processing is to allow the luffas to go brown and dry completely before you process them. That can be done either on the vine or picked. Our luffas tend to develop mildew in our warm and humid summer weather, and if that happens to yours too, it's not a problem. Just let them dry naturally. They will be ready for picking and processing when the skin is dark brown and very dry. If you pick one up in your hand, it will be very light, because all the flesh inside has dried up, leaving only a skeleton of fibres. When they're at that stage, pick them and lay them on a table outside in the shade for a day or so to completely dry out.



Break the end off where they were attached to the vine. That little disc will come away from the luffa really easily. When it does, tap the luffa on the table a few times to dislodge the seeds, and tip them out. There are quite a few seeds in each one so keep tapping them until all the seeds are out.



Then squash the luffa in your hand to crack the skin. You will see on the luffa above there is mildew growing on the skin. Sometimes that goes through to the luffa too. If it does, don't worry. We will fix that soon.




When the skin is cracked all over, start peeling. It's easy if you start at the bottom and pull a strip off.



In the photo above you'll see one luffa that has no mildew and one (behind) that has.



I soak all our luffas in a weak bath of bleach water. It kills all the mildew spores, and even though you may not see mildew in some of the luffas, it might still be there. Yesterday I used a ¼ cup of liquid chlorine bleach in about 5 litres (quarts) of water.



And here they are one hour later. The black dots you can see are seeds that didn't come out. When I removed the luffas from the bleach, I soaked them well in clean water and hit the luffas against the wall to dislodge the remaining seeds. They then dried in the sun.

Luffas can be eaten like squash when they're young but we grow them only to use as a sponge in the shower or sometimes I cut them up to use as pot scrubbers. They're a very useful, non-food plant for the sustainable home. I have a few seeds to swap, so if you're in Australia and you're interested in seed swapping, please contact me on rhondahetzel AT gmail DOT com. (I will be at work today and tomorrow, so I might not reply straight away.) Most other countries have strict rules about seeds coming from foreign countries, so I'm sorry but I can't swap with the majority of you. Luffa seeds are usually available from most open pollinated or heirloom seed merchants.

My other luffa posts - luffas and soap, growing luffas, pouring soap inside luffas, harvesting luffas

PS The cyclone has moved closer but it's still out at sea. It is now category 4 but is expected to remain at sea and weaken as it moves down the coast. Hopefully we will get a bit of rain from it but it looks like it won't cross land.



39 comments:

  1. Good morning Rhonda,

    Glad to hear the cyclone might weaken as it moves down the coast. I've been thinking of you over the weekend. The loofah post looks so interesting. I'd like to try them one day when we have more room. Unfortunately we are very limited in what we can grow at the moment. Raining here in Sydney overnight and this morning. So nice for the gardens as it been a bit dry lately. I'm enjoying the knitting and look forward to the updates.

    Blessings Gail.

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  2. Rhonda, I am so glad the cyclone is not going to hit land! I volunteered on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. right after Katrina and I will never forget the damage I saw nor the harrowing stories told by the people that lived it. I am so very glad that you and your country men/women are safe!

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  3. You are good!

    Just today, I was mentioning to Ruth (wife) that I am planning on growing luffas this year and there you go posting about it! Thank you.

    I have read somewhere (maybe at your blog?) that you can pour homemade soap into a luffa, let it cure in there and have a nice shower pal!

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  4. That looks really easy. I'll have to try growing them next summer.

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  5. Awesome! So great to see how easy it is, and how fascinating! I am def. interested in trying to grow some luffas when we get out garden set up in our new house... hopefully we might get them to grow in the ACT?

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  6. Hello everyone!

    Don, I've added that post now - it's the making soap one.

    Dixiebelle, you'll need a four month period of hot weather to grow them. We have flowers galore now, but I know they won't grow to maturity because it's getting colder now.

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  7. I would love to try growing luffas but our summers are too short I think. Walmart had some nice sized ones last week so I picked up three ($2/each) Later I'm hoping to cut & fill them with homemade soap. Here's hoping that you get a little bit of the rain and not the brunt of the storm.

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  8. Thanks Rhonda for sharing this, as I bought loofa seeds from Onalee here in the states. I am confident that I will do just fine after your step by step process.

    Praying that you have rain and that the cyclone reduces in intensity upon hitting.
    Jennifer

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  9. Thanks Rhonda for such a clear 'tutorial' on processing the luffas - keen to grow some next season. Also breathing a sigh of relief as the cyclone is still staying out to sea - very little rain and only slightly breezy here in Rockhampton - Louise.

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  10. Rhonda..those luffas are amazing..we can't grow anything like that here but I loved to hear how you harvest them. Here we buy them in the store ready to use but now I know how it looks in the raw state.
    Glad to hear that the cyclone is weakening..hoping you'll get some rain!

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  11. Fascinating!!! Thank you for posting this. I had them on my list for this year's garden, but was unsure as to what to do with them!
    Can I just say I've learned so much from you? Thank you for sharing. It helps those of us just starting out so much! Especially those of us that are well-educated, but were never taught anything of real use!

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  12. Hi Rhonda,

    I don't have any heirloom seeds to swap with you (well i do have tigerella but know you dont need those!) but would love to have some luffa seeds and would be happy to buy some off you if that is okay. I only started with heirloom seeds this year and tigerella was my choice based on such positive comments from your blog. My intention is to add a new heirloom seed every year and slowly build up my knowledge and skills with veggie gardening.

    Lisa, VIC

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  13. What a great idea. We are just reaching planting season here - I'll have to be on the lookout for some seeds in my neck of the woods.

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  14. Good Morning Rhonda
    So glad you are alright, I've been visiting up the coast this weekend and have only just heard about the cyclone on the news. Got a fair bit of knitting done towards the afghan, must post photos on my blog.

    Pippa

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  15. OMG I am so amazed right now. I cannot believe that I did not know that Loofahs were grown or that they were a squash...this is the most amazing thing I think I have ever seen. Thank you for your posts I love reading them!!

    Rhonda

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  16. Hi,
    I've been following your blog for a few weeks and love it. We are in Rhode Island in the United States. Thanks so much for the info on loofahs. I plan on growing some this year and had no idea how to harvest.
    Bev
    www.homeschoolgardener.blogspot.com

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  17. Hi, I am wanting to grow some loofah this year and bought some raw loofah from the Natural Bath & Body Shop. Inside each one were about 5-10 seeds that obviously had not been removed. Do you think they will germinate, or since it looks like these loofah were bleached, will the seeds be sterile?

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  18. This was fascinating. I seriously had no idea that a luffa was grown in a garden! Where did I think they came from? I'm not sure...I think I thought they were from the sea. Oh dear. I'm researching this for my growing zone, immediately, and I'm hoping I can freak out some of my friends and neighbors. It will be like a parlor trick! Wait. Unless, I'm the only person who didn't know where luffas came from. :-/

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  19. I have been thinking about you and Hanno since your last post about the cyclone headed (but hopefully not) your way. I am glad it is still stalled out at sea, and I hope that it will just remain out there until it dies!
    The loofas are great! I don't know if I could grow them here. It is mainly foggy during our summers and then we get some hot weather a little during Spetember and October. I wish I could grow some though.

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  20. Hi Rhonda
    It looks like magic, peeling back that hard skin to find a beautiful luffa within ! I would love to try some seeds - not sure what I could swap with you - have lots of coriander seeds...or something else, patchwork fabric maybe ?
    Jeni

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  21. Very informative post! Even a small crop would yield enough for all year. I like your use of cutting them and using as pot scrubbers--I'm going to give that a try and see how it goes

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  22. Thank you so much for this! I have luffa seeds and had not planted them yet because I wasn't sure what to do with them... but now I know! :-)

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  23. That is so cool, we don't get those over here except at the store. ;p

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  24. Hi!!
    I got the link you your blog from a friend here in sweden (I'm from Sweden as well) and I just can't leave it alone.. I want to read and learn, and learn n'till there arn't any more to learn..

    I found it very interesting about the loofas. I would like to be able to grow them as well, but I do not think we have enough warm weather..

    must be almost scary to know that natural disasters are so close to you, here we have Noting like it.

    warm greetings from a girl in Sweden..

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  25. Thank you for your luffa posting, I always wondered about these, do they grow well in a mild climate?

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  26. http://www.edenseeds.com.au/content/default.asp

    Here they are for sale at Eden Seeds...they are also asking for seed savers so you may be able to help them after helping all your readers :)

    Love the site very much, thank you, Rhonda.

    Sue

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  27. I didn't even have any idea that is what a luffah was...I wonder if they'd grow in a colder climate like Oregon in the U.S.?! I'll have to look them up! Fascinating!!

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  28. What a great idea. I am definitely going to give this a go.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

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  29. Hey Rhonda,

    Thank you for sharing because have always wondered what to do with loofas. Will definately grow some next summer at our new place.

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  30. Lisa, send me an email at rhondahetzel AT gmail DOT com

    Jeni, if you're in Australia, send me an email.

    Judy, it will depend on how long they were soaked for. Test two seeds in some moist newspaper, rolled up n a cigar shape. Leave it in a warmish place for a week, open it and see if there is a sprout. If not, close it for another week. If it doesn't sprout after that, they're dead.

    Warm greetings Hana, welcome.

    Dandy, luffas need four months of hot weather to fruit. You will grow flowers in cooler weather but they won't form into much.

    Hi Andy, good to see you again dear.

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  31. I loved this post! I just found your blog through a link from "i have to say..." I'm really enjoying looking over it. I've seen loofah seeds in seed catalogs before, but never seen how you go from plant to sponge. Now I want to get some seeds and grow our own loofahs. They look like a fun plant to raise.
    ~Jenny~

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  32. I was so pleased to find your information about processing loofahs. I live in Mallorca and my friend has a finca and there are a lot of loofahs growing there and we did not know how to process them. Thanks a lot for the information.
    Best wishes
    Maggie

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  33. Rhonda,
    Thanks so much for the Loofah posts. This year our loofahs did fantastic (since I followed your advice) My husband and I just peeled our first batch with more that are in various states of drying. We had a blast. We hope to have about 20 total. I am going to post a link back to you when I get it blogged.

    Gratefully,
    Stephanie

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  34. In Indiana (the lower US Midwest), where I happen to be at the moment, the loofah grows as a wonderful ornamental: a single plant covering 10-meters of chain link fence. The young green fruit is wonderful too. (We have Chinese seeds, and call the fruit "silk melon", si gua; it's great fried with tomatoes, tofu and eggs.)

    But the summer here apparently is not long enough for the fruit not just to ripen (which hey do) but also to dry, as in this article.

    Instead, by the time the first light frost kills the vines (late October, this year), the remaining fruit have the fully developed fibrous structure inside (so it's not edible anymore), and the seeds are apparently ripe - but the flesh is not gone yet. I am not sure if I manage to make this thing into a usable loofah thing, but I'll try to see what I can...

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  35. Dearest Rhonda...
    Let me tell you my short story on how i came to you here...
    I was taking a shower the other day...scrubbing my body with a beautiful loofah...when suddenly i saw something fall out and hit the shower floor...
    It concerned me a bit because i had this loofah for a long time...i thought..omg what is that a bug?..it looked like a seed...how did a seed get there? hmm
    when i asked my friend where do loofah's come from...they all said the ocean..and i believed that too...
    now i am educating all i see on the loofah and its true origin ...
    Thank you so much for your article on Loofah's
    p.s. do the edible leaves taste good???

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  36. Thanks for this great article! We planted some luffa plants at the Peace Park - one of http://PhillyFoodForests.org 's projects - and forgot to label them! We ate a few, thinking they were bitter melons before researching, finding your article, and confirming! :1, So much to learn in this big garden of ours!

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  37. this is our first year growing Loofah. Just happened on you page when looking to see how to peel them.
    One of our friends gave us some seeds last fall.
    We have quite a few large fruit and more coming on as it blooms.
    One question, are ants a pollinator for them. our vines are covered with ants.
    It is mid August in south Texas, 100 deg. plus.
    Thanks for the information.

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    Replies
    1. Loofahs only grow in warm to hot climate, so it's good to be in Texas for that. Ants are the major pollinator, bees too but ants do most of it. You can eat the loofahs when they're young. They're like a zucchini. The more you pick, the more fruit will develop but they'll stop when the cold weather starts.

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  38. I learned something new today. Thank you.

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