Facts on Loofah Sponges
Tie a string around the tubular-shaped loofah sponge and hang it in your bathroom in the shower, tub or sink basin. Not a sponge with origins in the ocean, this organic, all-natural material comes from a plant that is easy-to-grow. Consider planting a loofah in your garden to harvest a supply of sponges for yourself and others. All you need is a sunny location with fertile soils and a large trellis or fence to support the clambering stems.
Loofah sponges are created from the cucumber-like fruits of the smooth loofah vine (Luffa aegyptiaca). This fast-growing annual vine, to 30 feet in length, is native to northeastern Africa although a naturalized weed across much of tropical Asia.
The Loofah Fruit
After the five-petaled showy golden yellow flowers appear on the vine and are pollinated by bees, the loofah fruits develop. Inititally the fruits look like okra pods or small cucumbers, but eventually elongate and grow into club-like fruits (botanically a fruit called a "pepo") that are 12 to upwards of 24 to 30-inches in length and 3 to 5-inches in diameter according to Floridata's website. Once ripe and allowed to dry on the vine, the outer skin dries and browns, allowing the core of the fruit to also dry without rotting or molding. Don't let fruits succumb to fall frost.
After the skin, flesh and seeds are removed from a dried loofah fruit, the complex, hallow and tubular matrix of tan fibers remain. According to Jack Arnott of Cobb County Cooperative Extension Service, soaking the fiber mass in mild hydrogen peroxide solution bleaches it to a lighter tan color and helps ensure no fungal or other organisms remain to deteriorate the sponge-like fibers. In a cross-section of the fruit, the matrix of fibers is ventilated by four large voids where the juicy flesh and seeds once were.
When dry, the fibers in the loofah sponge are stiff but once submerged in cold or warm water become considerably softer and silky in texture. The fibers can be dyed as well as exposed to soaps and detergents and washed by hand or in machines. The fibers also can be cut to form particles of desired size. Overall, loofah sponges retain their fibers and overall shape and integrity for years, considerably longer than man-made sponge materials.
When growing on the vine, young loofah fruits (no larger than 6-inches in length) may be harvested and cooked like summer squash and used in stews and soups. The sponge fibers act as a gentile exfoliant on skin and increases blood circulation on the skin to help alleviate symptoms associated with rheumatism and arthritis according to Jack Arnott of Cobb County Cooperative Extension Service. The fibers also work as packaging material, filter floss or as textured craft materials for decorations.