Every February I try to satisfy my longing for spring by browsing the seed packet racks at local stores. Last year I came across this gem: Luffa gourd. Huh? In the 30 seconds of thought I’d given to luffa sponges over the course of my life, I had assumed that if it was a sponge it must be from the sea. Interesting. I flipped the packet over to read the planting information, and received my second shock of the day. The packet read, “Surprisingly tasty when eaten young.” Sold!
I’ll spare you the suspense; young luffa looks a lot like a ribbed cucumber. Peeled and eaten raw, it tastes a lot like one, too. Considering that at maturity a luffa forms a tough, fibrous mass that you can use to scrub stubborn gunk off of pots and pans, I would say that the fact it’s edible at all is surprising. I recently learned it’s a popular ingredient in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, so this year I intend to harvest a few more to make soup or stir-fry.
I found that the best part of growing luffa was the sponge harvest. Imagine a luxuriantly climbing vine with tons of zuchinni-sized, brownish-green, wrinkly gourds on it. Wearing gloves you can wash, you bang each gourd on the ground until it cracks, then peel it. With the right crowd, this is a great party game! Shake out as many seeds as you can, then rinse in water and repeat until the fiber is clean. Hang to dry, and presto! Sponges from the garden.
One of the best things about hobby gardening is that it’s full of surprises. Of course the MORE catalog has a ton of useful information on gardening. I’m very excited that L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library is now also host for the Eau Claire Grows Community Seed Library! You can check out seeds for free, and enjoy some gardening goodness yourself. Find out how the program works here.
Luffa isn’t one of the seeds in the library, but I for one intend to borrow several different varieties of heirloom seeds. I know I’ll be surprised again, as I am every year, by how tasty fresh-picked can be.