LUV A LUFFA
Story and photography by Monica Johnson
Luffas can be found in showers across the world, but do you know where they come from? Hint: it’s not the ocean. A natural substance often used for scrubbing, luffas grow on sprawling vines that produce pretty yellow flowers and a fruit that, when picked young, tastes like a cross between a cucumber and zucchini. If left on the vine, the mature gourd can grow over two feet in length, and its fibrous dried skeleton is the bath luffa most of us are familiar with.
The luffa plant can easily be cultivated in North Texas, according to Deb Terrell, whose business Luv A Luffa based in Rhome north of Fort Worth sells luffa seeds, bath luffas, luffa soap and crafts made from luffas—any of which would make a winning addition to holiday gift baskets. Besides her luffa cat toys, which are best sellers, Terrell crafts luffas into glittering miniature Christmas trees, wreaths and mobiles.
In 2003, Terrell’s garden project became a jobby (hobby turned job) when she started her luffa farm. As business grew, she realized that this natural exfoliator was far more than a mere bath accessory. “When I started selling luff as, my international customers would share with me about how other cultures use them,” says Terrell. “I was truly amazed.”
Because of their spongy quality, luffas have been made into doormats, pot scrubbers and stuffing for mattresses. According to Terrell’s website, luffas were once used as filters for marine steam and diesel engines. And as liners to insulate army helmets. Luffa extract can be found in nasal sprays and beauty products.
The plant has its roots in Asia, and luffa can be found in recipes from that region. When picked before reaching seven inches, the vegetable-like fruit can be stir-fried, substituted for eggplant in Parmigiana, stuffed like a pepper or used raw, like cucumber, in salads.
The yellow flowers are also edible and can be fried like squash blossoms. Ready to grow your own? The plant needs full sun, regular watering and a sturdy trellis to manage the vines. Although seeds can be sown directly into the ground, Terrell believes they grow best in five-gallon pots. Start them indoors during the winter, then transplant after the final frost, and harvest in the fall. When the gourd turns brown, you peel off the skin and let the skeleton dry.
Terrell plans to open a luff a learning center someday. “No matter what I do,” she says, “my main focus is to get the word out about luffas.” FB: Luv a Luffa
Story by Kim Pierce • Photography by Teresa Rafidi
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