Herbs, the Foundation of Medicine: Luffa

While herbs grow all around us, most of us rarely stop to consider what benefit a particular plant may have for us. I have to admire the Chinese sages of the past who have taken the time to observe and experiment with herbs. Their observations have left us with numerous herbal pharmacopeia's listing hundreds of herbs. While the majority of the documented herbs are rarely used, we still have a wealth of information available to us.

One herb that most of us have seen but not considered in a medical context is readily available at most natural food stores and even in drugstores. It may seem unusual to note that it is never found in the herbal sections as you might expect but near the cosmetics section. Also, most people use it for bathing. Have you guessed it? If you said the Luffa sponge you were right!

Most western herb books do not list the Luffa (botanical name: luffa cylindrica) in them. In the Orient though, it is recognized for its medicinal qualities and categorized as a Heat Clearing and Blood Cooling Herb. Herbs in this group generally treat bleeding symptoms such as nosebleed, coughing up blood, petechiae, ecchymosis, and also delirium. In Traditional Oriental Medicine, Heat is said to induce "reckless movement" in the blood. This can cause it to leave its normal pathways, the arteries and veins, and give us the above listed symptoms. Cooling the Blood in Oriental medicine refers to the astringent or hemostatic properties in herbs. It does not literally refer to lowering the temperature of the blood.

The whole Luffa plant can be used. Here are the two main actions of the "sponge" part:

1. Circulate Qi and Relieve Stagnation of the Channels. Luffa treats problems like subcostal pain, arthritis, and edema.

2. Cool the Blood and Stop Bleeding. It treats hemorrhage of the lower part of the body, for example, blood in the stool or uterine hemorrhage.

Those are the traditional actions. More recently Luffa has been used to promote the production of milk in breastfeeding mothers. When using Luffa, the common dose is from 6 to 12 grams. It is made into a tea that you drink.

If you grow Luffa, you will have access to the other parts of the plant which have different properties themselves. The vine is used primarily to treat cough, treat bronchitis, rhinitis, and sinusitis. The leaf can be used both internally and externally. Internally it detoxifies. This refers to its use for skin infections such as boils, carbuncles, or furuncles. If the leaf is used externally, it stops bleeding. Recently the leaf has been used to treat pemphigus, an autoimmune skin disease that resembles herpes. Generally the prognosis is poor but modern medicine tries to treat it with steroids which can have severe side effects.

You can see that the Luffa plant has more value than just being used when bathing. It is also a good example of how the different parts of a plant have different actions and can be used for many different problems.

It is important to remember that the medical usage of herbs must be based on the examination of each individual patient. It is best to have professional guidance, such as seeing a licensed acupuncturist, for specific recommendations.