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Herbs & Botanicals

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Luffa (si gua luo)

What is luffa? What is it used for?

The luffa (also spelled "loofah" in some sources) is a sponge-like vegetable native to India and China. It is actually the fruit of a hardy trailing, climbing vine (which can grow either vertically or horizontally) and is cultivated throughout Asia, with most luffa being produced in Japan.

A luffa resembles a cucumber in appearance, except that it is much longer and thicker, with a hard rind and strong, fibrous cells and seeds. In many countries, fresh young luffa is eaten for food or used in soups. The fibrous material inside the fruit is used in herbal preparations.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, luffa has sweet and neutral properties, and is associated with the Lung, Stomach and Liver meridians. Its main functions are to promote blood circulation and remove obstructions. Luffa is used to treat chest pain and congestion, musculoskeletal pain, and mastitis, among other conditions. Externally, luffa can be used either alone or mixed with sesame oil to remove dead skin and stimulate circulation. Powdered luffa is sometimes used in skin care products to reduce inflammation, remove toxins and improve one's appearance.

How much luffa should I take?

The typical dosage of luffa is between 4.5 and 9 grams, boiled in water and drunk as a decoction. Some practitioners may recommend slightly higher doses (10-15 grams). Luffa is commonly used after being calcined. Fresh, young luffa is sometimes eaten whole.

What forms of luffa are available?

Fresh luffa can be found at some Asian markets and herbal shops. Dried luffa is available whole, or in pill, powder and capsule form.

What can happen if I take too much luffa? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Luffa is considered extremely safe, with very little or no toxicity reported; as of this writing, there are no known adverse effects or drug interactions associated with taking luffa. While the German Commission E has officially listed luffa as an unapproved herb, the Commission E Monographs also state that there are no known risks associated with luffa. Immature luffa may sometimes have a bitter taste, but it is nevertheless considered safe. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking luffa or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds.) The Complete German Commission E. Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, pp. 344-45.
  • Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004, pp. 1062-63.
  • Chen JP, Yu SC, Hsu BR, et al. Loofa sponge as a scaffold for the culture of human hepatocyte cell line. Biotechnol Prog March-April 2003;19(2):522-7.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 483-84.
  • Yang Y, Ma X, Wu W, et al. Biological characters of the different varieties for luffa cylindrical. Zhong Yao Cai April 1999;22(4):165-7.

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