Lagenaria siceraria

Lagenaria siceraria, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Divisio: Magnoliophyta
Classis: Magnoliopsida
Ordo: Cucurbitales
Familia: Cucurbitaceae
Subfamilia: Cucurbitoideae
Tribus: Benincaseae
Subtribus: Benincasinae
Genus: Lagenaria
Species: Lagenaria siceraria

Lagenaria siceraria, Photo: Michael Lahanas


The calabash or bottle gourd (not to be confused with the calabaza) is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe. For this reason, one of the calabash subspecies is known as the bottle gourd. The fresh fruit has a light green smooth skin and a white flesh. However the rounder varieties are called Calabash gourds whereas the longer and slimmer kinds are usually well known as bottle gourds.

The calabash was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not for food but as a container.[1] It was named for the calabash tree (Crescentia cujete).
Culinary and other uses

The calabash, as a vegetable, is frequently used in southern Chinese cuisine as either a stir-fry or in a soup. The Chinese name for calabash is hulu (simplified Chinese: 葫芦; traditional Chinese: 葫蘆; pinyin: húlu) or huzi (Chinese: 葫子; pinyin: húzi) in Mandarin.

In Japan, the species is known as hyōtan (瓢箪, 瓢簞?) or yūgao (夕顔?), with the former word referring particularly to the larger-fruiting variety whose fruits are used mostly for making containers or other handicrafts and the latter referring to the smaller-fruiting variety whose fruits are more edible. Names that are used to refer particularly to the fruit of one or another variety of this species include fukube (瓠, 瓢, ふくべ?) and hisago (瓠, 匏, 瓢, ひさご?). It is most commonly sold in the form of dried, marinated strips known as kanpyō and is commonly used as an ingredient for making makizushi (rolled sushi).

In Korea, it is known as bak (박) or jorongbak (조롱박).

In the Philippines, it is known as upo.

In Italian cuisine, it is known as cucuzza (plural cucuzze).

In Central America, the seeds of the Calabash gourd are toasted and ground with other ingredients (including rice, cinnamon, and allspice) to make the drink horchata. Calabash is known locally as morro or jícaro.

In Colombia and Venezuela, the Calabash is known as a tapara or totuma.

In Tanzania, the pulp coated seeds of the Calabash are known as buyu (singular)/mabuyu (plural). These sour pulp coated seeds are gently cooked with sugar and coloured with food colouring and sold as sweets in coastal towns.

In Pakistan, it is known as lauki in Urdu. In India it is known as lauki,dudhi (दूदी) or ghiya (घीया) in Hindi,churakka (ചുരക്ക) in Malayalam, Jatilao in Assamese, lau in Bengali, Sora kaaya (సొర కాయ) in Telugu, dudhi-Bhopala (दुधी) in Marathi, sorekayi in Kannada, and suraikkaai (சுரைக்காய் colloq. sorakkay) in Tamil. In parts of India, the dried, unpunctured gourd is used as a float (called surai-kuduvai in Tamil) to learn swimming in rural areas. The dried and cored thick outer skin has traditionally been used to make musical instruments like the tanpura, veena, etc.[2]

In Bangladesh it is called lau (লাউ).

In (Nepali) it is called "lauka".

In Arabic it is called qara. The tender young gourd is cooked as a summer squash.

In Vietnam, it is called bầu canh or bầu nậm and is used in a variety of dishes: boiled, stir-fried, soup dishes and as a medicine.

The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.

Additionally, the gourd can be dried out and used to smoke pipe tobacco. A typical design yielded by this squash is recognized in (theatrically) the pipe of Sherlock Holmes. But Doyle never mentions Holmes using a calabash pipe. It was the preferred pipe for stage actors portraying Holmes, because they could balance this pipe better than other styles while delivering their lines.

Other cultural uses

The Caribbean

The Calabash is primarily used as utensils, such as cups, bowls, and basins in rural areas. It can be used for carrying water, or can be made for carrying items, such as fish, when fishing. In some Caribbean countries it is worked, painted and decorated as shoulder bags or other items by artisans, and sold to tourists. In Jamaica is also a reference to the natural lifestyle of Rastafarians. As a cup, bowl, or even water-pipe or "bong", the calabash is considered consistent with the "Ital" or vital lifestyle of not using refined products such as table salt, or using modern cooking methods, such as microwaves. In Haiti the plant is called "kalbas kouran", literally "running calabash", and is used to make the sacred rattle emblematic of the Vodou priesthood, called an "asson". As such, the plant is highly respected.

West Africa
Hollowed out and dried calabashes are a very typical utensil in households across West Africa. They are used to clean rice, carry water and also as food containers. Smaller sizes are used as bowls to drink palm-wine. Calabashes are used by some musicians in making the kora (a harp-lute), xalam/ngoni (a lute) and the goje (a traditional fiddle). They also serve as resonators on the balafon (West African marimba). The calabash is also used in making the shegureh (a Sierra Leonean women's rattle)[3] and balangi (a Sierra Leonean type of balafon) musical instruments. Sometimes, large calabashes are simply hollowed, dried and used as percussion instruments, especially by Fulani, Songhai, Gur-speaking and Hausa peoples. In Nigeria, the calabash has been used to avoid a law requiring the wearing of a helmet on a motorcycle.[4]


In many rural parts of Mexico, the calabash is dried and carved hollow to create a bule or a guaje, a gourd used to carry water around like a canteen. The gourd cut in half called "jícara" gave the parallel name to a clay cup "jícara".

South America

In Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, calabash gourds are dried and carved into mates, the traditional container for the popular caffeinated tealike drink brewed from the yerba mate plant. In Brazil, this container is called cuia or cabaça.Gourds also commonly used as the resinator for the "Berimbau", the signature instrument in the game or "Capoeira".Capoeira was developed by African slaves. The calabash gourd is possibly the oldest instrument resinator in the history of mankind.

In Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, the calabash gourds are well known to have been used for various medicinal purposes for over a 1,000 years by Andean Cultures. The Inca culture applied folklore symbology to gourds to pass on from one generation to another. Today this practice is still familiar and valued for its historical significance.


The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has suggested that Venezuelans avoid showers longer than 3-minutes.[5][6] Critics of Chavez have ridiculed this (reductio ad incommodum) by ironically suggesting the use of a totuma to bathe (although Chavez himself did not suggest this).[7][8] The inference is that Chavez's bathing suggestion is an unwelcome intrusion into Venezuelans' daily lives, and further, that bathing with a gourd is shamefully primitive. Compare U.S. President Jimmy Carter's speech urging Americans to conserve energy during the US 1979 energy crisis and negative reaction by his critics[9].

The hulu is an ancient remedy for health. In the old days the doctors would carry medicine inside so it has fabled properties for healing. The hulu is believed to absorb negative earth-based qi (energy) that would otherwise affect health and is a traditional Chinese medicine cure. Dried calabash is also used as containers of liquids, often liquors or medicine. Calabash were also grown in earthen molds to form different shapes and dried to house pet crickets, which were kept for their song and fighting abilities. The texture of the gourd lends itself nicely to the sound of the animal, much like a musical instrument. It is a symbol of the Xian immortals.


Hindu ascetics (sadhu) traditionally use dried gourd as a vessel called Kamandalu. The juice of lauki is considered to have many medicinal properties and is very good for health, the baul singers of Bengal(India) and Bangladesh have their musical instruments made out of it.The practice is also common among Buddhist and Jain sages.


In Hawaii a calabash is a large serving bowl. It is usually made from a hardwood, rather than from the Calabash Gourd as in Maroon cultures. It is used on a buffet table or in the middle of the dining table. The use of the calabash in Hawaii has led to terms like "Calabash Family" or "Calabash Cousins". It indicates that an extended family has grown up around shared meals and close friendships. Food is very important in modern Hawaiian culture. The expression "E komo mai - Come, let's eat" was the standard welcome to anyone approaching a home.

This gourd is often dried when ripe, and used as a percussion instrument in contemporary and ancient Hula.

The ATM machines of the University of Hawaii Federal Credit Union (UHFCU) are labeled "Kalabash", perhaps because they can be thought of as a large serving bowl for twenty-dollar bills.

1. ^ . Title Erickson, David L.; Smith, Bruce D.; Clarke, Andrew C.; Sandweiss, Daniel H.; Tuross, Noreen (December 20, 2005). "An Asian origin for a 10,000-year-old domesticated plant in the Americas". PNAS 102 (51): 18315–18320. doi:10.1073/pnas.0509279102. Retrieved November 17, 2009.
2. ^ [1] The History of an Indian Musical Instrument Maker, Kolkata, India
3. ^ image at Joseph Opala, "Origin of the Gullah",
4. ^ [2], Nigeria bikers' vegetable helmets, BBC News
5. ^
6. ^
7. ^
8. ^
9. ^

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