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Loofah is a green fruit traditionally grown in warm regions.

Loofah is a vine resembling gourds and cucumbers, and sometimes called the “disrag vine”, a reference to the spongy qualities of dried fruit. Six species belong to the genus Luffa and are widely cultivated for use in food and sponges. Loofah is the only plant source of sponge and has been used in baths and kitchens for centuries. Traditionally grown in India and the Middle East, where the name comes from, it is also grown in other hot, dry regions.

Loofah has been used for centuries for exfoliation purposes.

In appearance, a loofah looks like a cucumber. The plant’s vines will occupy any available surface, producing green drooping fruit in summer. These vines are often used to cover decaying fences or as privacy foliage because they are dense and grow quickly. The loofah prefers hot, dry climates and is very sensitive to frost, generally not thriving outside USDA Zone 10 unless gardeners grow it indoors and keep an eye on their young plants. They need to be watered regularly, but they shouldn’t get soggy.

Exfoliating during or after a hot shower can irritate sensitive skin.

Loofah is harvested for food in many parts of Asia. All species are edible, but must be consumed before ripening, or they will be too woody and fibrous to eat. The fruit is cooked before eating and is sometimes seen on menus as “Chinese okra”. When it ripens and dries on the vine, the loofah can be picked up like a sponge. The woody outer husk is removed and the seeds shaken to be sown again. Loofah sponge can be sold whole or chopped into smaller, more manageable portions. It can also be zipped for shipping. The straw-colored fiber net will swell again if the loofah is dampened.

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Like other sponges, loofah collects bacteria if kept moist and warm, a common environment in bathrooms. For this reason, many people who incorporate a loofah into their beauty regimen prefer to use it as a dry exfoliating brush before showering, or grind it up and use it in exfoliators. Like a dry brush, it will gently remove the top layer of dead skin, leaving your skin feeling soft and hydrated. The loofah can be used as a body sponge in the shower, but it should dry between uses. In the kitchen, it’s a great abrasive sponge for removing stubborn food particles from dishes and countertops. The loofah is also soft enough to be used on delicate things, like coated pans, that don’t stand up to normal abrasives.

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