All About Gourds

By Dorothy LaVonne Mitchell (LaVonne) on July 23, 2011

I have been contemplating how I could stimulate this cubit and it dawned on me that there was not any I thought I would start with a bit of Gourd History

History of Gourds


Gourds played an important role in the changes that took place as humans became tool users. There has been evidence from the Ocampo Caves in Mexico and Florida that gourds were used as containers long before baskets or pottery. Some of the oldest samples of pottery imitate the shape of bottle gourds that where most likely used in Africa, North America and Asia. In Peru and Florida ancient gourds have been discovered with primitive basketry techniques in the form of vine webbing and cordage wrapped around them serving as handles or in some cases to attach gourds to netting for fishing.

Several cultures today still use the gourd to make their native fermented drinks. In the Americas there was beer made from various mixed grains and plants that were allowed to ferment in gourds. The Masai of Kenya, Africa make a ceremonial drink from cow blood collected in gourds mixed with milk and honey or urine allowed to ferment for several days in the gourd and then drank by the men of the tribe to prepare them for a hunt or a battle. Poi is made in a huge gourd and allowed to ferment for several weeks in Hawaii and then served in smaller gourds. It is thought that the gourd offers unique qualities for the fermenting process.

Gourds have served man in many ways as tools, vessels, pots, clothing, hats, musical instruments, currency, and jewelry only to name a few and continue to be useful to date. However many embellished gourds can be found in museums all around the world that where beautifully embellished with all types of material, weaving, burning and design.

Gourds along with melons and squash are all members of the Cucurbitaceae family, but there are only three kinds of gourds that dry to a hard shell.

    Luffa (Luffa aegyptica Mill syn. L. cylindrica), or Loofah or vegetable sponge

This is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. Luffa is closely related to and has similar cultural requirements as the cucumber. It is an annual climbing vine, which produces a fruit containing a fibrous vascular system. When separated from the skin, flesh and seeds, the fiber network can be used as a bathroom sponge. Luffa can also be used as packing material, for making crafts, and as filters. Used as a bath sponge it produces a mild glow on the skin. The blood circulation the sponge induces on the skin has been credited as a relief for rheumatic and arthritic sufferers. The versatility of the luffa goes beyond producing sponges. The young fruit, when small, (around 6 inches) are delicious used in soup or stew. They can also be cooked like summer squash. Older fruit have been reported to develop purgative chemicals. Because luffa has a compact network of close fibers, its resiliency makes it useful for many products like filters, slipper soles, baskets. Small pieces of luffa sponge are good for scraping vegetables like carrots without having to remove the valuable nutrients by peeling them. You can also wash dishes, scrub your tub, etc. with luffa. When they become soiled throw them in the washer! Luffa is environmentally safe, biodegradable and a renewable resource.

     The ornamental gourd (Cucurbita pepo v. ovifera)

These babies are the colorful gourds you see around the stores starting around October. They if left in their natural state will dry to a thin hard shell and are used to make such items as ornaments and holiday decorations.

     The hardshell variety  (Lagenaria siceraria)

The most popular of the gourds. Its thick hard shell enables a person to carve it , cut it decorate it and use it. They have been used and charished around the world. They come in an array of sizes and shapes from jewelry size to large bushel or barrel size. They grow well in the United States and the seeds are available in all states. You can also buy dried gourds in all sizes from gourd farms across America.

The Gourd has been used by man as far back as we can tell, since the very beginning.  A gourd grew over Jonah to shade him from the heat as God used this vegetable to teach Jonah a lesson about forgiveness.  Pottery and utensils dating back to prehistory may well have been fashioned and made after the shape and uses of gourds.

The Purple Martin and the Gourd
The Purple Martin is one bird whose mere existence is today nearly totally dependent on man to supply a nesting place for them, and they most commonly accept a large gourd which has been named after the bird, the Purple Martin Gourd. This gourd is so preferred by Purple Martins that companies now manufacture plastic Purple Martin bird houses molded in the shape of this gourd. How could these birds have come to this dependency?

Native American Uses
The Native American Rattle is a predominate part of Native community life, ceremonies and rituals and has become a Native American symbol for music, dance and medicine as well as spirituality. They were sometimes elaborately carved or decorated with beads and feathers

    2011-07-23/LaVonne/bbd044 Native Water Wings
These gourds were used as water wings, or a safety floatation device.  Kids used them until they learned how to swim, NA' s carried them when they were out in the rivers/bay in case they sank, the water wings would allow them to try and swim back to shore.

    2011-07-23/LaVonne/024dd2 Gourd Whistle / Ocarina
Native American and Hawaiians alike made musical instruments out of gourds including the gourd whistle, gourd flute and gourd ocarina.

     2011-07-23/LaVonne/251f80Gourd Utensils
long before we had plastics and molding machins, we had gourds, and many gourd utensils were made to make life easier in a very similar way to that of modern day materials make utensils.  Gourd pictured is made from a Maranka and long handle dipper cross as it has some hint of Maranka nodules, but they are not as predominant as they are on the typical Maranka Gourd. However, either the Maranka or the Long Handle Dipper can be used for a strainer.

While gourds today are probably best known as birdhouses and bird feeders, modern artists turn these wonderful fruits into center pieces worthy of a place of honor in even the finest homes. Gourds have become an artistic medium in modern times.

This is what the gourd has become too many of us who have grown gourds and crafted gourds; it has become a wooden vegetable worthy of admiration.  If you are new to gourds, we hope you'll find the time to explore this website and to see just how much gourds have been accepted into the world of artistry.


All About Gourds - Owner


Related articles:
gourd, history

About Dorothy LaVonne Mitchell
Single Senior Citizen, engaged in crafts. I like painting gourds, rocks and sewing various craft items: animals, dolls, quilts, and I like doing floral arrangements and mini-gardens.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Very thorough, LaVonne! nap Jul 27, 2011 6:16 PM 13

All About Gourds

If you have never been "into" gourds here is the place to learn how to grow, harvest, clean, and decorate this wonderful and interesting vegetable of the Squash family. Just come on in and visit with us and share knowledge!!

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