Thursday, March 27, 2014

Loofah--from vine to soap

If you've followed my blog for a long time, you've already seen a post on one of my favorite things to grow--loofah, but I think it's time for another one.  People are often surprised when they learn that loofahs are grown.  No, a loofah isn't a sea sponge, but the mature "skeleton" of a zucchini-like plant.  Everyone knows they are good for the bath but they also make great natural pan scrubbers in the kitchen.  They are so popular that I have to remember to tuck away any that I want to keep myself.

I raise three or four plants every year.  Like a zucchini or a cucumber, it likes to spread out with little regard to another plant's personal space.  Here is last year's crop.

Early in the summer, the loofahs remained neatly on the trellis:


But then they wandered over to the basil:


Cozied among the tomatillos:


And hung out with the butternut squash:


Harvest time was a regular treasure hunt.  But I ended up with about 20 loofahs from my four plants.

This is what they looked like late in the summer.  I peeled back some of the rind so you can see that it is, indeed, loofah.

After a frost, I could more easily peel the rind off the loofahs.  I let them dry, then cut the loofahs into smaller lengths and shook out the seeds.


It's completely optional, but I like to soak the loofahs in a bucket of water with a splash of bleach to even out the color.


Everyone who makes loofah soaps has his own method, but I prefer to slice the loofah for individual soaps. And, I found that a serrated knife works much more smoothly than wrenching through the sponge with scissors, especially after I wound up snapping the handle off.


And finally, here is the finished soap.  I'm calling it Garden Fresh.  It is a blend of tomato leaf and lettuce fragrance oils, colored with a touch of chrome oxide and tomato paste.  My loofah soaps are always a little more "rustic" looking, partly because it can be hard to get the soap into every little bit of loofah and partly because I want the loofah inside to be visible.


I'm already starting loofah plants in the house with some of my saved seeds and in another month, the cycle will go around again.  Whew.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post, Amy! It's funny seeing the loofah cozying up to the neighboring plants.
    I've always wanted to grow my own loofah but it's something that I never remember to do. :D
    Does the loofah have to dry on the vine? Will it still work if I buy the loofah vegetable and dry them under the sun? (As you can tell, I am not much of a farmer or gardener, even though I like the idea :) )

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    1. Oh, you should try to grow it! It's native to Asia and grows well there. In my much cooler climate I have to start it in the house and baby it with a plastic jug "greenhouse" until it's warm enough.

      I think it needs to dry on the vine. As a young vegetable, it is edible with soft flesh like a zucchini or cucumber (as I understand--I've never wanted to sacrifice a loofah to see for myself). It's only with age that they develop the hard fibers.

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  2. I had read, seen and learnt about loofah, but interesting,not only that i have never tried it, but also have never tried any loofah soap. I might be wrong, but it looks too harsh for skin to me? Nature is really miraculous,isn't it?

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    1. It depends on the loofah, Maja. Some of the older, more mature loofah are tough and coarse--perfect for scrubbing pots and pans. But the younger ones are much softer and get softer with use; I have one that I use on my face.

      I guess loofahs are God's way of making sure we stay clean! :)

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  3. How cool, Amy! The loofah soap looks great. Your garden looks so nice, too. It must be fun to grow your own loofah (and veggies)! I would love to have a garden, but I don't have a yard. And also I have a talent for killing plants. I can't even keep a cactus alive.

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    1. Gardening is ton of work (but SO worth it), so things like loofah are a fun change of pace. I wouldn't know what to do with myself in the summer withouit a garden! If it makes you feel any better, I can't keep an aloe vera plant alive (and I've killed several cactus myself!)

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  4. Do you mind if I covet your garden? I would so love to have a place to grow my own veggies. I love the fact that you grow your own loofah, I mean how much more home made can a soap get? Do you keep the seeds to grow the following year's loofah plants? I take it they are annuals? So many questions, but inquiring minds want to know.

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    1. You may! And may I offer you a hoe, as well? ;) That's why I wanted to grow my own loofah, to see how "homegrown" I could make my soap. And yes, I do save the seeds. I got a full cereal bowl of them just from last year alone. I don't know what they are like in other parts of the world, but in my climate they're annuals.

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    2. I'm more than happy to help out in the garden as my sister will attest to, I'm just not supposed to take care of an entire one on my own, given my inability to keep most house plants alive. ;)

      Love the fact you can grow them year after year with your own seeds. That's true recycling. :)

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this post Amy! I was obsessed with loofah growing two years ago and called my "project" From Seed to Soap :) (http://mojsapun.blogspot.com/2012/12/blog-post_22.html). This was the first time that I had any related experience with plant growing and it was grate feeling when I took loofah as a final product in my hands. I like loofah in soap and currently I cut it in small pieces, mix with soap base and add as one layer in soap bar.

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    1. Thanks for the link to your post--I really enjoyed it!

      I plan to mince my scraps up finely and do just that. I have a nice little pile of loofah bits and that's all I could think to do with them.

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  6. Wow, that is awesome, great post!! I remember Gordana's post about this and was completely amazed by the whole process. I read in your comments that it is edible when it is young...I had no idea they were edible at some point...very cool!

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    1. Thanks, Cee! Glad you enjoyed it.

      I'm curious as to what loofah tastes like, but since I can just barely get most of them matured in my climate, I hate to sacrifice any. With the occasional less-mature loofah that still contains the fleshy-filled cavity, it really does look just like zucchini. Mmm... loofah bread, stir-fried loofah...the possibilities....:)

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  7. Wonderful Amy I love this post! The green loofah remind me of the gourds people grow for many other artistic endeavors like containers or other ornamentation! Can you spare a few seeds? I'd love to give it a go here! That they are used as pot scrubbers is brilliant!

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    1. ...be watching your mailbox....:)

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    2. Thank you so much Amy! You are so sweet. The seeds arrived today and I'm so thrilled. Can't wait to give this a go. I will keep you up to date on their growth and harvest for sure!

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    3. Great! Hope you enjoy them and I look forward to your updates. :)

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