Nearly a year ago, I embarked on a gardening and soaping adventure that I called, “The Loofah Soap Experiment.” My plan was to grow a loofah plant from seed, nurture it throughout the summer and harvest tons of loofah to use in soapy projects.
By the end of September, I had ten large loofah on the vine. I just had to wait for them to dry out so I could harvest them. I checked them every day and by the end of October, I was able to harvest two. Then winter arrived in early November and rest froze on the vine. Such is the nature of gardening in Ohio.
With my two survivors, I decided to make rustic gardener soaps scented with rosemary essential oil that would scrub away the most stubborn dirt while leaving hands feeling smooth and soft.
To achieve the rustic look, I used recycled containers. For the first soap, I used a half and half container and left the batch uncolored.
For the second batch, I used a Pringles can and colored the batch a nice shade of green. To prep the can so it wouldn’t leak, I stretched several layers of plastic wrap over the opening of the can, replaced the plastic lid, and sealed the lid with tape. Then I flipped the can over and cut the bottom off to make a new opening. I kept the loofah a little bit longer than the can thinking I could use it as a handle to help pull the soap out of the can.
I quickly learned that trying to push or pull the soap out of the can was difficult. Luckily, Pringles cans are made of cardboard and I was able to peel it away from the soap instead. The freezer paper I used as a liner protected the soap from tearing when I pulled the cardboard away.
To slice both soaps, I used a serrated knife and cut with a back and forth sawing motion instead of cutting straight through to minimize drag marks.
I love the rustic look of both soaps but, even more, I love that they smell like a walk in an herb garden on a warm summer day. Rosemary is considered to have antimicrobial properties so these are perfect to use after a day of digging in the dirt. Both will be available in the coming weeks in the Emmet Street Creations Etsy store.
Isn’t that a lovely picture of dried loofah sponges? I wish I could take credit for growing these but alas, my loofah are still as green as can be.
Well, all of them except for this monstrosity.
Apparently someone got too busy and neglected her garden for a few weeks. This is not what I intended when I started this project but I’m not about to let a little setback deter me. In the spirit of Halloween, I’m calling this a zombie loofah. If you or someone you know is a zombie who needs a little exfoliation, drop me a line and this little gem is all yours. After all, zombies deserve smooth skin, too.
Loofah sponges are supposed to dry on the vine but since the weather is getting colder and mine are showing no signs of starting to dry out, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I removed one of the loofah from the vine and enlisted the help of a former Boy Scout to string it up like a Thanksgiving turkey. It is now hanging from a rafter in my garage.
I’m really itching to make a soap using loofah. For now, all I can do is be patient and let nature take its course.
Did you miss out on some of the loofun? Check out some of the prior installments of the experiment to see loofah baby pictures, wild vine growth or try a new recipe.
My loofah plant is exceeding all of my expectations for what a plant grown in a shady Ohio yard can achieve. It is the largest plant I have ever grown from seed. I garden for the simple joy of watching plants grow and this plant has been thrilling to watch as it takes over my fire pit, kindling pile and everything else that gets in its way.
When I planted the seeds earlier this year, I hoped for at least one loofah that would be big enough to dry and use in a soapy creation. At last count, I have nine loofah and the largest currently measures 18 inches!
The fruit of the loofah is edible when it is young and tender, before it has developed the exfoliating fibers most people are familiar with. It is similar in texture and taste to zucchini and can be used in any recipe that calls for zucchini. If Bubba had been a loofah farmer instead of a shrimper, he would have said, “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s uh, loofah-kabobs, loofah creole, loofah gumbo.” You get the idea. (And, I may have seen a certain movie a few too many times.)
Bubba may have found a million different ways to prepare loofah but when it comes to home-grown veggies, I prefer a simple preparation with very few ingredients. I want to experience the flavor and character of the vegetables that I grow. When I cook zucchini, I sauté it with olive oil and a pinch of garlic and then season it with salt and pepper. That preparation seemed like the easiest choice for my first foray into eating loofah. The first chance I had, I picked a tiny baby loofah, cut it up into chunks and sautéed it just like I would a zucchini.
Four ingredients turned this tiny little vegetable into a tasty appetizer. (And I had fun stomping around the house and pretending I was a giant eating a full sized zucchini that I cut with my giant knife and served on my giant plate. I have an active imagination. Don’t judge.)
My only regret is that I didn’t pick more so that I could try other recipes like this Thai stir fry called Buab Pud Kai.
Have you seen loofah sold in markets where you live? Have you tried it in a recipe? Tell me all about it in the comments and share your recipes!
For most of the summer, I’ve been convinced that my loofah plant would never bear fruit. It has been an unusually cool summer and loofah plants need heat. The vines are huge and getting bigger very day. Neighbors, don’t let your cats out. Loofah hungry!
The plant has been blooming for the last month, but no loofah.
Then, we had rain and several sunny days in a row and suddenly, loofah!
At last count, I have five little loofah growing and dozens of flower buds. If the weather would just warm up, I think I might get at least one loofah that is large enough to dry and work with before the snow starts to fly. I might even get brave and pick a few small ones to eat.
Did you miss the first few installments of the loofah saga? Catch up with them here and here.
Where has the time gone? Between prepping for my first Cleveland Bazaar and making more soap to replenish my stock, I almost forgot about posting an update on how my loofah is growing. Looking back on my last update, I can’t believe how much the plant as grown. It went from this sweet little seedling:
To this Little Shop of Horrors like vine:
I’m not sure how big this vine is going to get, or where it’s going to go, but for now it seems happy to grow up the side of the bird net covering my blackberries.
Don’t get too close to those tendrils!
I’ve read that loofah can have a very long growing season and needs warm temperatures to thrive. We’ve been having an uncharacteristically cool summer so far, so I’m not surprised that it’s mid-July and I’m only now seeing flower buds. Hopefully the temperatures warm up and I get a couple of good sized loofahs by the end of the summer.
Are you growing anything fun in your yard this year? I’d love to hear about your gardening adventures!
I don’t know about you, but I am done with winter. Weather-wise, it has been winter since early November here in northern Ohio. By my count, that’s four months. Four months of extreme cold, gross black snow on the sides of the roads, treacherous driving and high heat bills.
I’m over it.
So, I’d like to announce that here on Emmet Street, it is officially spring! And the opening of spring means planning for my vegetable garden. This year, I’m going to attempt to grow loofah. I was as surprised as anyone to learn that loofah is not a sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea. It’s actually a member of the cucumber family. It‘s edible when harvested early, while the fruit is small and green. As the fruit matures, it become fibrous and, from the looks of it, a choking hazard. At the end of the growing season, it’s possible to remove the skin and dry the fibrous insides, making the familiar loofah sponge.
I’ve read that growing loofah in my region of the country is challenging, but not impossible. It has a very long growing season and needs up to six months to mature. I’m up for the challenge. If all goes according to plan, I will start my loofah seeds inside in early April, transplant them into my garden in May, and by September, I should have at least one fully mature loofah to dry.
What will I do with the loofah once it’s dried? Make soap, of course! I’ve made loofah soap before and it was wonderful for scrubbing away dirt.
My first attempt at loofah soap. It was scented with orange essential oil.
I’ll post updates of my progress here on the blog throughout the growing, drying and soaping process.
Have you tried growing loofah or any other odd vegetable? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!