Luffa sponge, also known as loofah sponge or Si Gua Luo in Pinyin, is originally one of essential household cleaning gadgets. I don’t know since when it is phasing out our lives and gradually replaced by the fancy artificial sponges these days. Luckily, as a commonly used Chinese herb it is never absent as it is with so many health benefits. Many people believe that edible loofah gourd can promote milk production after delivery and think that this is a quick and easy recipe for promotion of lactation. However, in fact the part that really matters is not its flesh but its fibers, which is able to unplug clogged milk ducts and thereby allow milk to flow through them more smoothly. Anyway, the medicinal uses of a loofah don’t end here. Medicinally if you really know how to use a loofah sponge, it can be really helpful.
What is a loofah?
Medicinally it mainly refers to the vascular bundles of the dried ripe fruit of Luffa cylindrica (L.) Roem or Luffa acutangula Roxb. These two are plants in the family Cucurbitaceae. Other common names of it include Chinese okra, sponge gourds, Dried Vegetable Sponge, Vietnamese luffa, Retinervus Luffae Fructus, Vietnamese gourd, luffa gourd, and more. It is widely cultivated all over China and usually harvested during summer and autumn when fruit is ripe, peel becomes yellow, and internal part is dry. After the harvest, remove the skin and flesh, wash, dry in the sun, get rid of the loofah seeds, and finally cut them into sections. Medicinally it is normally used raw.
Loofa sponge consists of criss-cross vascular bundles. Most of them are in elongated round shape, slightly curved, in various lengths but up to 70cm sometimes, 5 to 10cm in diameter, and with slightly smaller ends. Surface is yellow-white, rough, and with several shallow longitudinal grooves and sometimes visible remnants of the peel and membrane-like flesh. It is light, tough, flexible, and with 3 cavities in cross-section and occasionally residual black seeds. It has slightly odorous and tasteless. The best loofah is usually considered large, intact, tough, pale yellow, with clear veins but no seeds.
Lufa sponge contains xylan and cellulose. In addition, it may still contain mannan, galactan, lignin, and so on.
Luffa sponge benefits
It is in fact the vascular bundles of fully developed fruit of luffa sponge plant. It is the best helper in the kitchens and bathrooms, especially in the years there is no detergent and scouring pads available. No matter how greasy the dishes are, it works like charm to get rid of all them. More importantly, no residue can attach to this natural loofah sponge after the cleaning. So, the benefits of replacing the common artificial cleaning sponges with it are so obvious – low-cost, healthy, safe, eco-friendly, quickly degraded, and more hygienic.
A luffa shower sponge, a jar of body wash, plus a few pieces of scented candles can turn your bathroom into a spa center immediately. Since loofah or sponge balls are the best tools to remove dead skin, which is really essential, especially in winter since the skin becomes dry and dead skin piles. Twice a week with a loofah can effectively remove dead skin to make it smooth and moist again. Besides, it can also enhance blood circulation and promote skin detoxification function at the same time. And when consumed as vegetable, loofahs are rich in saponin, bitter and phlegmatic substances, lignin, citrulline, xylan, interferon, and other special materials. In combination with vitamin B1, C and other ingredients, it can protect the skin, eliminate spots, make skin become white and delicate. No wonder loofah gourd juice is also known as “beauty water”.
It was initially recorded as a medicine in Ben Cao Gang Mu (the Compendium of Materia Medica) and included into fruit and vegetables subclass of vegetables chapter. Li Shizhen ever reviewed that: “It is named Si Gua Luo because of its tough woven fibers when ripe. The reticular fibers of old gourd connect and run through each other. The net just resembles channels in human body. Similarly, it can act on main and collateral channels and viscera to detoxicate, reduce swelling, transform phlegm, relieve pain, kill parasites, and treat all blood diseases.”
Modern pharmacological actions of loofah sponges
1) Effect on the liver. Oleanolic acid contained has a therapeutic effect on carbon tetrachloride induced acute liver injury in rats. It can reduce the degeneration and necrosis of the liver cells;
2) Other effects. Oleanolic acid has cardiotonic and diuretic effects. In addition, it can inhibit the growth of S-180 tumor strains.
Luffa sponge recipes on herbal remedies
According to the Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter in flavor and cool in nature and involves meridians of lung, liver, and stomach. Basic functions are clearing and activating the channels and collaterals, resolving toxin, dispersing swelling. Prime luffa sponge uses and indications include pains in chest and flanks, wind-damp rheumatism, meridians spasm, plugged milk dusts, arthritis, lung-heat cough, and abscesses. Recommended dosage is from 5 to 15 grams in decoction or 1.5 to 3 grams in the form of charred powder.
1) An Hui Zhong Cao Yao (Anhui Herbs). It is formulated with Chi Shao (Red Peonies), Bai Shao (White Peony Root), (Chinaberry), Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome), Qing Pi (Orange Rind) to cure pains in ribs and chest.
2) Si Chuan Zhong Yao Zhi (Chinese Medicinal Herbal in Sichuan, 1979). It is combined with Ju Luo (tangerine pith), Dan Shen (Salvia Miltiorrhiza), and Xie Bai (Chive Bulb) to treat obstruction or pain due to Qi in the chest.
3) Shi Wu Zhong Yao Yu Bian Fang (Herbal Foods in TCM and Simple Recipes). The nature-preservative burned luffa sponges are ground into powder and taken with sugar to heal cough with excessive phlegm and pains in chest and ribs.
4) Shan Dong Zhong Cao Yao Shou Ce (Shandong Herbal Handbook). It is matched with Ren Dong Teng (Honeysuckle Vine), Wei Ling Xian (Clematis Root), and Ji Xue Teng (Evergreen Wisteria) to treat rheumatic joint pain.
5) Chinese Medicinal Herbal in Sichuan (1979). It is coupled with Huai Niu Xi (Achyranthes Root), Sang Zhi (White Mulberry Twig), and Huang Qi (Astragalus Root) to treat paralysis of one side of the body following strokes.
6) Anhui Herbs. It is equipped with Mu Dan Pi (Tree Peony), Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower), Pu Gong Ying (Dandelion), and Chao Zhi Ke (Fried Fructus Aurantii) to cure acute mastitis and swollen boils.
Clinical research of luffa sponges
Clinically luffa aegyptiaca sponge gourd and other species have a marked effect on the treatment of acute mastitis, herpes zoster, thyroid adenoma, asthma, bronchitis, cough, uterine prolapse, angina pectoris, and the like.
a) 62 cases herpes zoster ophthalmicus have been applied with loofah paste. And among them 58 cases were cured;
b) 30 cases of thyroid adenoma have been treated with the combination of loofah 30g, Xia Ku Cao (Prunella) 30g, and Gan Cao (Licorice Root) 10g. And 21 cases were cured and 6 cases were improved;
c) Cough due to asthma or bronchitis can be treated with the recipe of loofah 20g, Sang Bai Pi (mulberry bark) 30g, Xing Ren (almonds), and fresh soy milk. And the efficacy is more than 90%.
Luffa sponge side effects and contraindications
Oleanolic acid was administered p.o. 120 mg/kg one dose and no significant toxicity and adverse reaction were found. 100 times of the clinical dose were fed to animal for straight 10 days. And the microscopic examination showed that no damage occurred in 11 kinds of organs like brain, heart, and liver. All the experiments indicated that loofah sponge is with low toxicity and safe to use.
a) Yan Ke Xin Jin Zhan (Recent advances in ophthalmology), 1991; 2:35;
b) Hu Nan Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Hunan Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1986; 1:13;
c) Shi Yong Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Practical Journal of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicines), 1995; 2:89.