A loofah is a fibrous, cylinder-shaped vegetable product often used in bathrooms as a kind of rough sponge or gentle brush. It is the dried interior of the fruit of a plant know to botanists as Luffa aegyptiaca. Less dignified, though more descriptive, names for this tropical climbing or trailing herb are dishcloth gourd and vegetable gourd.
The luffa belongs to the great gourd family of plants, and its 800 relations include the cucumber, the melon and the pumpkin. In spite of having an unpleasant smell, the luffa is cultivated in Egypt (hence the second part of its Latin name) and in Arabia, India and China. The yellow-flowered climbers can sometimes be seen adorning the trunks of palm trees. Besides being used to make loofahs, the luffa’s fruit is eaten in curry.
The development of man-made materials has led to a decline in the loofah’s popularity, but many people still use its slightly abrasive qualities to simulate the skin.