Mostly Unknown Luffa Sponge History!
The intriguing Luffa Gourd has been used for Millennia for everything from food, to sponges, to engine filters. I have found that most people nowadays don't know what the origin of the Luffa sponge is or even what it is. So, when asked what a Luffa is, most will answer, “ that spongy animal thing found in the ocean”. When I explain to them what a Luffa sponge really is and that we grow them on our farm, they usually have a bewildered look on their face. And then the next comment is---what do you mean it grows in the ground, and why haven't I ever heard of them? I explain that in modern times, with so many inexpensive synthetic reproductions made to resemble natural products, the natural organic Luffa sponge has largely been forgotten.
Happily, one can take note that Luffa Gardens' farm grown Luffa sponges are an amazing organic alternative to the man-made petroleum-based products such as the nylon shower puff. Luffa Gardens' sponges are even a much better alternative to the “natural” dead sea sponge animal corpses that are cut from the bottom of the ocean. The most common misconception, that the natural organic Luffa sponge, or rag gourd, as some call it, comes from the ocean, is blown out of the “water”. Actually, it is a relative of the cucumber family and has been grown for thousands of years in many tropical areas of the world.
Lost to time, the origin of the Luffa (loofah) sponge is unknown as to where exactly it came from, but most scientists believe it originated in Asia or Africa and actual cultivation first started in India. Incredibly, carbon dating revealed that the Luffa gourd was brought to North America over 9000 years ago! Early European settlers in the North American colonies grew Luffa as one of the first domesticated crops in the new world.
A renown author and researcher, Johann Vesling, who died in 1649 traveled to Egypt in the late 1620's and studied the luffa gourd being cultivated with an array of artificial irrigation channels. From this culture, which called the sponge gourd “luf” in Arabic, came the establishment of the name of the Luffa genus, Luffa Aegyptiaca. (This is the same heirloom organic Luffa we grow and sell!).
Over the eons and until the present day, the humble Luffa gourd has been used for food and juice when small and green. And then when the Luffa is dried, peeled and washed, it's used for sponges and an endless list of bathing and cleaning uses. It is still used in many parts of the world for medicinal purposes, including healing extracts and medical tools, mattresses, insulation, hat padding, soldier's helmet padding, for painting, ornaments, decorations and water filters. Prior to and during WWII, the skeleton of the Luffa gourd was used extensively for diesel engine oil filters and steam engine filters.
Before the end of WWII, most luffas were imported from Japan, however, the horrible attack on Pearl Harbor ended the bulk importation of luffas to the United States. In New York in 1893, Nell Cusack, a journalist wrote “They were in great demand!” referring to the widely spreading popularity of this wonderful luffa sponge that made your skin glow. The women, wanting their skin to appear as youthful as could be, often scrubbed with vigor and over-enthusiastically. Cusack made light of the fact that many were so enthusiastic, they turned their faces and skin red as lobsters. In her article, she wrote that the ever-growing popularity of the Luffa sponge was creating an exploding trend encouraging “a loafer, loofah, loopa, or lufhar in every wash basin in the land.”
On a side note, there still is not a consensus on how to spell the name of this ancient and unique natural sponge. The two most common spellings in the English language today are Luffa (which is part of the scientific genus name) and Loofah.
Interestingly, since the “Black Plague in Europe in the 1400's, people rarely bathed because they thought the warm water opened up the pores of their skin, subjecting them to an array of diseases. Nevertheless, not until the late 1800's was this myth debunked. A medical researcher, Louis Kuhne, who died in 1901 was the “Father of the friction bath” and believed scrubbing vigorously with a tool like a luffa sponge in tepid water was not only exemplary but necessary for detoxification of the skin. In the last part of the 1800's, this belief resulted in a craze of “friction bathing” by women who wanted to cleanse their skin of any toxins or disease.
The humble luffa sponge was used by many when the mohair mittens or flesh brushes were too expensive or not readily available. In the early 20th century, women started fussing even more about the health and glow of their skin as trending fashion plunged their necklines and raised their hemlines. One magazine in 1902 wrote that one could achieve that marble-statue glow by “sanding” down the bumps. Consequently, many women found the utilitarian Luffa sponge worked wonders to help them achieve this goal.