Loofahs are a bathroom staple, used to scrub the skin and create the luxurious foam that most people associate with a refreshing and cleansing shower.
One would never expect that the loofahs have their origins in a dishrag – or rather, a dishrag vine. This is closely related to the cucumber or gourd family. The loofah plants are very prolific, and will climb over most surfaces. In fact, it is often used to decorate fences. The plants are edible and are actually quite a popular food source in Asia. They are known there as ‘Chinese Okra” and are eaten cooked, not raw. They are picked green, but when left on the vine, they are harvested when dry and the exterior has become hard and wood-like. The fibers tend to become compressed, but expand when exposed to water.
Loofahs have long been cultivated by Indian and Middle Eastern civilizations. The plant thrives in warm climate, but must be watered frequently. It tends to die when exposed to frost, so (when cultivated in the United States) it must be kept indoors and under close supervision during the cold season.
Loofah sponges are useful but can breed bacteria especially in humid weather and moist environments like the bathroom and kitchen. Most experts recommend drying a loofah sponge between uses, and throwing it away after a few months of use. The wood-like surface is excellent for exfoliating the skin and abrading dirt from surfaces like tiles or floors. It is also considered the best cleaning device for delicate pans, which can be damaged by more abrasive cleaning materials.