Two popular shower accessories are the loofah and the sponge. Where does the loofah come from?
And the answer: vegetables.
Unlike sea sponges, the loofah (or botanically Luffa aegyptiaca) doesn't come from the ocean. It's a type of tropical vine from the cucumber family. To use one in your shower, allow the vegetable to mature and dry out on the vine. Then harvest, remove the skin and seeds, rinse out the sap, and allow it to dry in the sun.
This enigmatic sponge has been grown for thousands of years, with purposes ranging from food to insulation to engine oil. The plant was brought into the Americas as one of the first domesticated crops in the new world. Soon after, the loofah's place as a utilitarian staple and bath-time necessity was quickly cemented. A 19th-century craze for "friction baths" sensationalized the loofah, as its tough yet malleable bristles served as the perfect exfoliant. Medical researcher Louis Kuhne, known as “Father of the friction bath”, believed scrubbing vigorously with a tool like a loofah sponge in tepid water was not only exemplary but necessary for detoxification of the skin. In the last part of the 1800s, this belief resulted in the craze of “friction bathing” by women who wanted to cleanse their skin of any toxins or disease.
The loofah plant in its organic form has fallen increasingly out of use in the 21st century. Consumers tend to gravitate toward the synthetically produced nylon shower puff, which has since become the better known image of this cleaning tool. However, loofah plants continue to be grown throughout the world. Check out this site to find some organic options of this ancient plant.
Did you know?
There still is no official 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.