Where Does Loofah Come From?
What's a loofah and where do they come from?
A loofah is an exfoliating bath sponge that is actually a fruit/vegetable grown on land. They're technically not a sponge as they grow on a vine like a marrow and when left to dry, the skins are peeled to reveal the fibrous inner which absorbs water and can be used for many tasks around the home.
The Science behind how a loofah grows:
The botanical name is luffa.
A dried loofah is made up of the xylem fibres of the luffa fruit which are the tubes that carry water and minerals up the plant (the phloem is the other part of the system that carries food and nutrients down the plant). In the peak of the season the luffa fruit is very heavy which is why we need such a solid structure to hold them up and allow air flow. Nearer the end of the season the plant starts to take all the moisture back out of the fruit and absorbs a lot of the pulp leaving only the xylem fibres behind, this is when the luffa fruit lightens up considerably. If you pick a luffa too soon the fibres will be there but they'll be fine, soft and all squishy with much of the fruit pulp still present. So we let nature do it's thing and dry them out for us.
Under the microscope - the luffa xylem fibres are tiny hollow tubes that are intertwined and weaved to all connect. When wet these swell up and soften. Nature's design is amazing.
Even though the luffa is in the same family of plants (Cucurbitaceae) as pumpkin, and cucumbers and they all grow well in NZ, because we have to leave the fruit on the vine for a lengthy time to dry off and the harvest takes place over a three - four month period, the autumn conditions play a huge part in the overall growing season. The cold weather hardens the skins and makes them much harder to peel (we do this all by hand) or early rains can cause them to rot before they're ready to pick. That's horticulture - you never know what's going to happen so you've got to be prepared for everything.
Loofah are great for:
- cleaning / exfoliating the body
- cleaning around the home such as a pot scrub or cleaning out tubs
- using as a soap lift for handmade soap to drain
- they can be added to soap to be used as a foot scrub or a hand exfoliator
The best part is that because they are 100% plant fibre they can be composted when you've finished using them or you can burn them in the fire.
There are several different varieties which offer different degrees of scrubiness.
Loofah used to be popular in the 50's and 60's before plastic came along (so my customers tell me), then they were replaced by the plastic shower puff but the problem with these little bundles of plastic fluffiness is that they contain 3.5 metres of plastic netting which is not good for the planet. A softer natural loofah is a great alternative to the plastic shower puff.