Growing veggies is part of the Japanese public school science curriculum and the sponge gourd or hechima is one of the plants often found in school garden plots.
Sponge gourd, hechima, ito-uri 糸瓜, 蛮瓜,布瓜 has been used as medicine to treat phlegm for tuberculosis and other illnesses or in cosmetics. The liquid is collected from a slit in the vines about 30 cm above the ground and is said to be best around the 15th of August (lunar calnedar) on the night of the full moon. About one liter may be collected in one day and night.
Aka Luffa (Luffa aegyptica Mill syn. L. cylindrica) / Loofah or vegetable sponge) 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 and its fruit is very fibrous and is used as a bathroom sponge producing 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 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.
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 can also be used as packing material, for making crafts, and as filters. Because luffa has a compact network of close fibers, its resiliency makes it useful for many products like filters, slipper soles, baskets.