As our children were growing I read a wonderful book on how to handle children’s ailments singing the praises of Lemon Balm or Melissa Officinalis (aka: Bee Balm as the greek word for bee, I am told, sounds much like melissa). Lemon Balm makes a light, fresh, delicious tea that even children will drink! It has relaxing qualities. #Lemon Balm Tea is helpful in getting a fussy child to relax and maybe even sleep. There is a lot of research on Lemon Balm on PubMed for use with hyperactivity, impulsiveness and to help with concentration1 (I think I need some tea;-))

Lemon Balm even has some research as an antiviral and has on benefits with acyclover resistant bacteria2

You may want to take a minute to search the Pub Med site for more uses of Lemon Balm.

The Extract may be used by putting drops into hot water (the alcohol will dissipate in the steam):

Organic Tea Bags are also available:

Save money/Buy in Bulk:

For a cup of tea:

For a quart of tea:

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! email me at:
Cynthia@SoCalGardenHealth.com

Sliced Luffa In Soap

Young, edible luffa

Mature Luffa Vine

Luffa aegyptiaca Climbing Wall of House!

How to Grow Luffa

  • Luffa's Botanical Names include:  luffa aegyptiaca (smooth luffa) and luffa angulatica  (angled luffa)
  • Angled luffa or L. angulatica is grown in Asia and known as Chinese okra or ridged gourd.  It's flowers are night-blooming, unlike the day blooming yellow flowers of the Luffa aegyptiaca.  
  • Luffa's Other Names may include, loofah, loofa, luffa plant, a luffa sponge, loofah sponge plant, loofah gourd, luffa vine, loofah vegetable, vegetable sponge, esponja, sponge vines, dishrag gourd, seed cloth,  loofah melon (luffa is a relative of c.pepo - a separate Genus and Species in the Cucurbitaceae Family that includes melons, but luffa's not a melon!  See luffa seed saving below.)
  • Luffa aegyptiaca  is  an annual, heat-loving vine whose fruits are edible when young!  It looks like long zucchini, but has a distinctly lemony flavor - it makes the zucchini consistency more enjoyable!  In India the immature fruits are used in curries and in Asia the young luffa is prepared and eaten as you would use a summer squash in recipes or try a stir-fry with a young luffa before it becomes a big gourd!
  • Luffa aegyptiaca is the botanical name of the smooth luffa pictured to the left (climbing the wall!) and at this stage it would be way too tough to eat!
  • Luffa gourds don't really require a trellis as you can see on this picture where the luffa is climbing the wall on its own.  It has tendrils that seem to grip the wall to support the weight of the plant and fruits.  (See below for a picture of luffa plant with flowers climbing a flimsy fence as a trellis!) 
  • Luffa requires a very long growing season, so if you don't live in a temperate climate (like the Southern states of CA, AZ, NM, TX , LA, AL or Fl.) or have a greenhouse, you may need to  start the plants indoors or in a greenhouse six weeks to two months  before last expected frost date for your zone.
  • Luffa Sponges
    Luffa acutangula sponges are softer than the ones from Luffa aegyptiaca, but the outer skin of the plant is more difficult to remove from the fibrous core.  We have always grown the L. aegyptiaca and have found that even if tougher, they make the perfect skin-sloughing loofah for the shower or bath. (see pictures below) These luffas are especially valuable for slicing horizontally and placing into a soap-making mold and using the ensuing bar on rough feet!

Saving Luffa Seeds

Luffa Varieties & Seed Identification
Angled luffa (Luffa acutangula or L. acutangula) seeds are a bit pitted and black.  L. aegyptiaca seeds are also black, but smooth or unpitted and also differ in that they have an outer margin rim that the black seeds of the angled loofah lack.  An occasional white seed may appear, but they may just be immature. 

To Save Luffa Seeds  - ideally you will want to let the gourds dry thoroughly on the plant before harvesting.  If that is not possible, let the fruit or the gourd dry thoroughly in the sun before attempting to peel the skin.  The seeds seem to hide in the crevices, but are easy to shake out into a bowl once the skin is removed.

Dried Luffa And Seeds

Dried Luffa And Seeds

 Luffa acutangula Seeds
If you are planning to save seeds, know that the different types of luffa can possibly cross-pollinate as smooth luffa (Luffa aegyptiaca) can cross-pollinate with angled lufa (Luffa acutangula or L. acutangula) that is within a half mile.   Luffa seeds seem to last a long time - I have had some for ten or more years and found them still viable (but I do keep them in a container that keeps moisture out.)  The seeds dry readily as the gourd dries and you can hear the seeds as the dried gourd is shaken! 

 Hand-pollinate or separate by great distances if you plan to save seeds.  At one time, even though luffa is an out-breeding plant, it was believed that these two varieties would not cross.  A gourd authority, Charles Heiser found otherwise and said the two could cross into a hardy hybrid, but the next generation of seeds would not be viable1.


Starting Luffa Plants

Sliced Luffa In Soap

Sliced Luffa In Soap

Starting Luffa - We start luffa when we start tomatoes around mid-January... Plan to keep the luffa protected from frost until thirteen months later - yes, the following February for the mature  sponge that you can peel to reveal the loofah you will use in your shower, make into exfoliating soap bars, or use to scrub your dishes like a dishcloth!

Scarifying Luffa Seeds - Luffa seeds have a very hard shell that soaking alone takes a long time to penetrate.  I prefer to scarify the seeds by carefully nicking off a corner of the edge of the seed.  This allows water to get in and start the seed faster.  

Soaking Luffa Seeds - Once the seeds are nicked or scarified, I soak them in a glass of water for 24 hours before planting in moist, warm soil.  

Germinated Luffa Seeds - If you are in a cooler climate, you will need to place a warming mat below the seeds to keep the temperature between 72 and 80 degrees in order for the seeds to germinate.  We live in sunny California and I have also taken an extra gourd or loofa fruit and buried it in compost directly in the garden - but sometimes that way can take a year or more before the seeds sprout.  (I started cacao seeds that way - it took a few months before they started!)  The best way to start the plants is to scarify, soak and plant in warm soil in your backyard garden, provide a trellis and protect from cold and the seeds should sprout in 10-14 days.

Harvesting Luffa is rather simple as it just needs to dry and keep them on the plant as long as possible.  This will vary according to where you live, but I have found the biggest gourds take a full year to mature.  Let the vine wither or harvest when you can no longer protect the fruits from frost.  Cut the fruit from the vine and let dry thoroughly.  Once dried, the skin can be peeled off the loofah and the seeds shaken out.  

Making Soap with a Loofah is as simple as cutting the loofah in horizontal slices and placing them in the mold that the soap will be poured into.  When the soap has cured the resultant luffa soap bar will be amazing for a scrub for rough feet and to remove dead skin.  The luffa soap in the above picture is made with a soap made with charcoal and frankincense (thus the dark color!)

Can Luffa grow in a pot?  Luffa should be planted in the ground or, possibly a huge pot - but  I cannot imagine it growing well without a large area of soil.  It can be a very large plant that needs a lot of soil to support it nutritionally.

How Long does a Loofah Last?  When a Loofah is left out to dry in its casing, it will actually last for years!  The picture below shows a loofah that I harvested after five years of sitting in the greenhouse!  It was drying out too much and beginning to disintegrate, though, so I wouldn't wait that long next time!

Dried Too Long Luffa

Dried Too Long Luffa


References:

1.) Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth 2002 Seed Savers Exchange (I only got a little info from here, but if you want to save seeds, this reference is the best I have found to make it easy for a beginner to start with!)


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