Luffa: The Humble Vine
Sow the seed and let this generous vine offer you soothing shade in the garden to meditate under, abundance of fruit to nourish your body, a stunning display of large green leaves to feast your eyes, vibrant yellow flowers that brighten up your soul and a sponge to wash dishes or for a gentle scrub during a bath.
You might know this as Tori or Turrai or the sponge gourd while in the others parts of the world it has different names. Nepalese call it Ghiraula, in Philippines it is called Patola, Chiense and Indonesians call it Sigua or oyong and it is popular as Hechima in Japan. Peechinga, beerakaya, dodka , ghosavala and zika are just few other names by which this versatile vegetable is known as in different parts of India and Pakistan. However, the name Luffa or Loofah was drived from لوف lūf in Arabic which was the name given by Egytian farmers to this crop. Johann Vesling (died 1649), a German botanist visited Egypt in 1620s and introduced the new name in western botany nomenclature.
Perhaps the reason for its wide spread cultivation and popularity is its overwhelming health benefits. Just one cup of Luffa vegetable contains 66% Vitamin A ( of DRV) which is essential for bone growth, healthy immune system, reproduction, skin and eyes!. This vegetable is not only rich in vitamin A but also in Vitamin C. Being rich in Vitamin B complex especially B5, it helps maintain a healthy nervous system and liver. It also prevents hair loss, stress and anxiety besides many more healthy benefits. Luffa is especially good to prevent type 2 diabetes because it offers good amount of magnesium, an essential mineral for glucose metabolism.
All this goodness is best served and enjoyed when it comes fresh from an organic source. What could be better than growing this humble vine in your own home?
Grow your own Luffa!
Luffa prefers soil that is well drained and rich in organic material. Plant seeds directly into the soil during early spring in places where it gets very cold in winters. In Karachi, I plant this vine throughout the year even in winters. For fall harvest, I plant the vines during monsoon or in early August, for spring harvest I sow seeds in October when it is hot enough for the seeds to germinate. I sow my next batch in February when it has started to get hot again. Seeds planted in scorching May and June will also grow without a failure. The idea is to replant seeds somewhere in the mid life of the older vine to get continuous supply throughout the year.
– Select an heirloom or open pollinated luffa variety. Although, color and size of luffa varies around the world but there are generally two types of luffa vegetables. Smooth lufa and ridge luffa.
– source your seed from a friend or a relative who grows luffa, buy from a garden store or ask around on social media gardening groups. You might find a generous farmer who is willing to send you some free heirloom seeds!
– Prepare an 18 inch pot or your ground by adding 50-50 Soil and well rotted manure (ideally organic) or organic compost to make a basic soil mix. This seems to be enough for this easy to grow vine that need little attention. But an additional supply of natural or organic potassium and phosphorus fertiliser will encourage even better growth.
– Sow a couple of seeds in a group 1 inch deep and at least 5 feet apart. 3-4 seeds in an 18 inch pot will be enough. Thin to one strong plant later.
– Water well and use dried hay or straw to mulch in summers. This will help retain moisture in the heat.
– Add a thin layer or organic compost or manure every 15 days or use compost tea or liquid organic fertilisers for potted plants.
– pinch off new growth once the vine reach 10 feet height. This will encourage new branches which means a lot more vegetables. Repeat this once the new branches are big.
Luffa vine will quickly grow and spread its branches all around. Best is to have a plan to train it over the bamboo arch, on a trellis or a pergola or to simply tie a rope on a wall and let it find its way. Keep the fruit lifted from the soil to avoid rot and disease. Although, the vine is trouble free and hardly invites any bad bugs but if under attack, use natural ways to combat the problem.
The Pollinator’s Paradise
The stunning bright yellow large petal flowers not only create a beautiful contrast with deep green leaves but also attract bees all day long. Once these beautiful flowers begin to bloom, you will find all types of bees hovering over it. This is one of the natures wise ways of turning those flowers into fruit.
Luffa vines produces male and female flowers. Male flower stalk has multiple buds which open one after the other providing pollen to fertilise the female flowers all season long. Female flower has a little fruit attached to it. Our tiny
pollinator friends, stay busy from dawn till the afternoon to supply pollen from one flower to another, that turns flowers into fruits for us, while they indulge in the sweet nectar.
Harvest , Eat & Store
Pick your gourds when young and not too swollen with fibre. The vegetable usually grows up to 18 inches long and
I find it tastes best when it is 2 inches thick. Cut the stalk attached with the vegetable gently.
Wash it well and use a peeler to peel off the skin. I feel nostalgic when I think of Turai. The taste and smell of torai ki bhujiya that my mother makes takes over my senses. There are so many more ways to cook this versatile vegetable. Turn it into a bhaji, a curry , a pakora or cook it with lintels, meat or eggs. In Asian countries, luffa is used in soups also.
Store your extra harvest by washing, drying well and wrapping individual vegetables in brown paper and then refrigerating it for up to a week.
To make your very own home grown organic back scrubber, just let a few vegetables grow, swell with fibre and eventually turn brown , hollow and light in weight. Cut it off from the vine and remove the brown skin that will crack and come out easily revealing the magical scrubber inside.
Save, Share & Sow
This incredible over grown dry vegetable not only gives you a back scrubber or a sponge but also stores some highly productive seeds in it! Make a little hole at one end and shake the luffa to take out the seeds. Store them in a sterilised dried glass jar and keep it in a dark cabinet. Now that you have your own seeds, it is time for you to share it with others. It is a very good idea to sow the vines in slums and areas where the roofs needs to be cooled in summer.
I feel, there are so many lessons of life to be learned from this gracious vine. The secrets will unveil in front of you once you plant a seed with all your heart, visit it often, sit under its shade, enjoy its fruits and share.