Si Gua Lou

Botanical name: Luffa cylindrica
Common name: Luffa, Loofah, Smooth luffa
Literal name translation: net of string melon

Family: Cucurbitaceae, gourd family
Part used in Chinese medicine:  fruit

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Resolves toxicity, reduces swelling, unblocks channels and
collaterals. invigorates blood, transforms phlegm

Si Gua Lou

Si Gua Lou

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Luffa cylindrica; 08/2006; author Taamachai
Photo 2: Luffa cylindrica; 08/2006, author Taamachai

Comments:
Smooth luffa is indigenous to India and Egypt. The mature fruit produces a cylindrical fruit with tough fibers, which when dried is sometimes used as for scrubbing in the bath in the West. In China the very young fruits are cooked as a vegetable similar to zucchini. When used as a vegetable, the fruit should not be over 1 1/2 inches long or the skin will be touch and inside flesh, spongy.

The plant is a very fast growing tropical climbing vine with rounded leaves and yellow flowers blooming in mid-summer. Growing to 10-15 feet long, the vines may be allowed to meander along the ground but do best when given a trellis or support to grow on.

Growing and Propagation

The plants are grown in many places as summer annuals as they are frost tender, hardy in zones 7 to 11. Preferring full sun, they do best in well-drained sandy loam and need regular, but not excessive, watering. The plants bear 1-2 foot long gourd-like fruits that are smooth and cylindrical shaped with white flesh. They should be allowed to turn from green to yellow on the vine, then will gradually loose a great deal of their moisture and become light. They must be significantly overripe before harvesting, at which time the outer skin and seeds can be easily removed.

Propagation is by seed, which can be sown indoors in early spring or planted directly in the ground after the last frost. Both male and female flowers are on the same plant and are pollinated by bees in order to produce fruit.

Harvesting and Preparation

For medicinal purposes, good quality Si Gua Lou should have the skin and seeds removed, consisting of clean, white pieces with a fine reticular network.