Things I learned in Antigua: Luffas grow on trees

Antigua is a lush, green land of 365 beaches (one for every day of the year!), warm sunshine, and laid-back island culture. It is also the land of the luffa.

Beauty junkies the world over are familiar with these excellent exfoliating tools, perfect for sudsing up and washing down in the shower or tub. We may even know them by other names – shower sponges, poofs, etcetera. Today, many are made of plastic and come in a variety of colors and textures.

What we might not know: the luffa, also known as a loofah, is a fruit.

That’s right. Just like that old fooler the tomato, the loofah is part of the fruit family. That’s right – we thought it came from the ocean too. Doesn’t the little sponge-like apparatus look like it came from the sea?

Well, it doesn’t. This edible “climbing vine” with beautiful yellow flowers – if one wasn’t aware of what they were seeking, the luffa might be mistaken for a beautiful tree. Resembling a cucumber when ripe, luffa is often cooked eaten as a fuit in some Middle Eastern and Indian cultures and sometimes prepared with crushed dried peanuts and bans. Some even use its juices as a natural treatment for jaundice. In Canada, the luffa is known as a Chinese Okra and in India the fruit is called a Sebot. In Paraguay, the fruit is combined with other vegetable matters and recycled plastic to create furniture or construct houses.

When dried out, as shown in the gallery below, the luffa can be peeled or chipped away to showcase the mature and dry fibers underneath. Shake out the seeds, which resemble oversized watermelon or sunflower seeds, and viola! The world’s only natural bath or kitchen sponge. The coarse network of fibers makes the luffa a perfect exfoliator for both dry and wet skin.

These fruits grow in dry, warm climates throughout China, Korea, Japan and Central America as well as my own personal land of discovery, Antigua.

I’m proud to say that the phrase “you learn something new every day” stands true – it just turns out that this day was more memorable than most!

*A big thanks to Vorn Johnson, an Antiguan nature enthusiast, who accurately pointed out that one of the island’s many plants is indeed the luffa fruit. While we can’t find data verifying if the plant is native to the island, research shows that the fruit also grows on nearby Barbuda.