Lagenaria siceraria
Green calabash on the vine
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Lagenaria
Species: L. siceraria
Binomial name
Lagenaria siceraria
(Molina) Standl.
  • Cucurbita lagenaria (L.) L.
  • Lagenaria vulgaris Ser.
Lagenaria siceraria "geese," Granville Island Public Market, Canada.

Lagenaria siceraria (synonym Lagenaria vulgaris Ser.), bottle gourd, opo squash or long melon 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, the calabash is widely known as the bottle gourd. The fresh fruit has a light green smooth skin and a white flesh. Rounder varieties are called calabash gourds. They come in a variety of shapes, they can be huge and rounded, or small and bottle shaped, or slim and more than a meter long.

The calabash was one of the first cultivated plants in the world, grown not primarily for food, but for use as a water container. The bottle gourd may have been carried from Africa to Asia, Europe and the Americas in the course of human migration.[1] It shares its common name with that of the calabash tree (Crescentia cujete).



The word comes from the Spanish calabaza, possibly from Arabic qar'a yabisa "dry gourd," from Persian kharabuz, used of various large melons; or from a pre-Roman Iberian calapaccia.[2]

Origin and dispersal

It is a commonly cultivated plant in tropical and subtropical areas of the world, now believed some have spread or originated of wild populations in southern Africa. Stands of Lagenaria siceraria that may be source plants, and not merely domesticated stands run wild, were reported recently in Zimbabwe.[3] This apparent domestication source plant produces thinner-walled fruit that, when dried, would not endure the rigors of use on long journeys as a water container. Today's calabash may owe its tough, waterproof wall to selection pressures over its long history of domestication.[4]


Calabash had been cultivated in Asia, Europe and the Americas for thousands of years before Columbus's discovery of America. Historically, in Europe,[5] Walahfrid Strabo (808–849), abbot and poet from Reichenau, advisor to the Carolingian kings, discussed it in his Latin Hortulus as one of the 23 plants of an ideal garden.[6][7]

Recent research indicates some can have an African origin and at least two unrelated domestications: one 8–9 thousand years ago, based on the analysis of archeological samples found in Asia, a second, four thousand years ago, traced from archeological discoveries in Egypt.

The mystery of the calabash – namely that this African or Eurasian species was being grown in America over 8000 years ago[8] – came about from the difficulty in understanding how it came to be on the American continent. Genetic research on archeological samples published by the National Academy of Sciences in December 2005 suggests calabash may have been domesticated earlier than food crops and livestock, and, like dogs, were brought into the New World at the end of the ice age by Paleo-Indians. It is supposed that bottle gourds were carried by people in boats or on foot across the then-existing land bridge between Asia and America. Once in Florida and Mexico, bottle gourd seeds could still be viable after long periods of migration.

The rind of the domesticated calabash, unlike that of its wild counterpart, is thick and waterproof. Calabash previously was thought to have spread across oceans without human intervention, if the seeds were still able to germinate even after long periods at sea. This was the basis of the earlier, dominating theory, which proposed the calabash had drifted across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to North and South America. The new research notes domestication had led to changes in morphology (shape) of Asian and African specimens, potentially allowing the identification of the calabash from different areas. Now, both genetic and morphological considerations show calabash found in American archaeological finds are closer to Asian calabash variants than to African ones.[9]


Like other members of the Cucurbitaceae family, calabashes contain cucurbitacins that are known to be cytotoxic. The tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins present in fruits and vegetables of the cucumber family, are responsible for the bitter taste, and can cause ulcers in the stomach. In extreme cases, people have died from drinking calabash juice.[10][11] [12]

Culinary uses

A Bottle Gourd in Bengaluru, India

In India, it is known as lauki (लौकी / લૌકી), dudhi (दूदी / દૂદી) or ghiya (घीया / ઘીયા) in Hindi/Urdu/Gujarati; aal (आल) in Marwari; churakka (ചുരക്ക) in Malayalam; jatilao in Assamese; lau (লাউ) in Bengali; sorakaaya (సొర కాయ) or anapakaya in Telugu; dudhi-Bhopala (दुधी-भोपला) in Marathi; sorekayi in Kannada; and suraikkaai (சுரைக்காய் colloquilly sorakkay) in Tamil. A popular north indian dish is lauki channa, (channa dal and diced gourd in a semidry gravy). In parts of India, the dried, unpunctured gourd is used as a float (called surai-kuduvai in Tamil) to learn swimming in rural areas. Indian instruments, such as the tanpura, sitar and rudra veena, are constructed from dried calabash gourds, using special cultivars that were originally imported from Africa and Madagascar. They are mostly grown in Bengal and near Miraj, Maharashtra. These gourds are valuable items and they are carefully tended, sometimes they are given injections to stop worms and insects from making holes while they are drying., etc.[13]

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: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: lu) or huzi (Chinese: ; pinyin: zi) in Mandarin. Two common kinds of calabash sold in Chinese stores are the "Opo" kind, which is elongated but still plump, and "Mao Gua" which is very similar to Opo, but it has hairs, as its Chinese name references, which translates to "Hairy Squash". The hairs, although small, can get embedded in the skin, but it is usually safe for adults to handle.

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 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 Burma, it is known as ဗူးသီး boo thee, a popular fruit; young leaves are also boiled and eaten with spicy hot, fermented fish sauce called nga peet. 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 Pakistan, it is known as lauki/kaddu in Urdu.

In Bangladesh, it is called lau (লাউ). In Nepali, it is called lauka (लौका). 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.

Cultural uses

The Caribbean

Calabash is primarily used for 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, it 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. It is also the national tree of St. Lucia.


Calabashes (nkalu in Kikongo) are used to collect and store palm wine in Bandundu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Hollowed out and dried calabashes are a very typical utensil in households across West Africa. They are used to clean rice, carry water and as food containers. Smaller sizes are used as bowls to drink palm wine.

A Malian kora player with his Kora (Toumani Diabate).

Calabashes are used in making the West African kora (a harp-lute), xalam/ngoni (a lute) and the goje (a traditional fiddle). They also serve as resonators underneath the balafon (West African marimba). The calabash is also used in making the shegureh (a Sierra Leonean women's rattle)[14] 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.[15] In South Africa, it is commonly used as a drinking vessel by tribes such as the Zulus. Ebore tribe children in Ethiopia wear hats made from the calabash to protect them from the sun. Recently, the Soccer City stadium which hosted the FIFA World Cup has been completed and its shape takes inspiration from the calabash.


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.

Costa Rica

The Costa Rican town of Santa Bárbara de Santa Cruz holds a traditional annual dance of the calabashes (baile de los guacales). Since 2000, the activity has been considered of cultural interest to the community, and all participants receive a hand-painted calabash vessel to thank them for their economic contribution (which they paid in the form of an entrance ticket).[16]

Aboriginals throughout the country traditionally serve chicha in calabash vessels to the participants of special events such as the baile de los diablitos (dance of the little fiends).[17]

South America

In Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, calabash gourds are dried and carved into mates, the traditional container for the popular caffeinated tea-like drink brewed from the yerba mate plant. In Brazil, this container is called cuia, porongo or cabaça. Gourds also commonly used as the resonator for the berimbau, the signature instrument of capoeira, a martial art/dance developed in Brazilian plantations by African slaves. The calabash gourd is possibly mankind's oldest instrument resonator.

In Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, calabash gourds are known to have been used for medicinal purposes for over a thousand years by Andean cultures. The Inca culture applied folklore symbology to gourds to pass down from one generation to another, and this practice is still familiar and valued.

Bowls made of calabash were used by Indigenous Brazilians as utensils made to serve food, and the practice is still retained in some remote areas of Brazil (originally by populations of various ethnicities, origins and regions, but nowadays mainly the indigenes themselves).


The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has suggested Venezuelans avoid showers longer than three minutes.[18][19] 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).[20][21] 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.[22]


The hulu is an ancient symbol for health.

A Qing dynasty cricket cage
A bottle gourd

In the old days, the doctors would carry medicine inside it, 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 gourds were also grown in earthen molds to form different shapes with imprinted floral or arabesque design, 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 a dried gourd vessel called the kamandalu. The juice of lauki is considered to have many medicinal properties and to be very good for health. The Baul singers of Bengal 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, 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", indicating an extended family 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.

Other uses

Additionally, the gourd can be dried and used to smoke pipe tobacco. A typical design yielded by this squash is recognized (theatrically) as the pipe of Sherlock Holmes, but Doyle never mentioned 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. See, Smoking pipe (tobacco)#Calabash.

Image gallery


  1. ^ 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. PMC 1311910. PMID 16352716. Retrieved November 17, 2009. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Discovery and genetic assessment of wild bottle gourd [ Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Standley, Cucurbitaceae from Zimbabwe]. – Economic Botany 58. 2004. pp. 501–508. 
  4. ^ Reconstructing the Origins and Dispersal of the Polynesian Bottle Gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). Proceedings of the SMBE Tri-National Young Investigators' Workshop 2004. 2005. pp. 58, 501–508.. 
  5. ^ (in German) Gemüse des Jahres 2002: Der Flaschenkürbis. Schandelah: VEN – Verein zur Erhaltung der Nutzpflanzen Vielfalt e.V.. 2002. 
  6. ^ Strabo, Walahfrid; Näf,W.; és Gabathuler,M. (ford.) (2000) (in Latin and German). De cultura hortorum. ISBN 3-7995-3504-7. 
  7. ^ Walahfrid Strabo (2002) (in Latin). De cultura hortorum sive Hortulus VII Cucurbita. Fachhochschule Augsburg: bibliotheca Augustana. 
  8. ^ White, Nancy (2005). Nancy White University of South Florida – South American Archaeology: Archaic, Preceramic, Sedentism. Bloomington: Indiana University Bloomington MATRIX project. 
  9. ^ Erickson, David L.; Smith, Bruce D.;Clarke, Andrew C.; Sandweiss, Daniel H.; Tuross , Noreen (2005). An Asian origin for a 10,000-year-old domesticated plant in the Americas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 
  10. ^ Adhyaru-Majithia, Priya (13 March 2010). "Not all bitter veggies are good, they can kill you: Doctors". DNA (Bhaskar Group). Archived from the original on 9 July 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  11. ^ Chandra, Neetu (9 July 2010). "Toxin in lauki kills diabetic city scientist". India Today (Living Media). Archived from the original on 9 July 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  12. ^ "Bitter 'lauki' juice can kill you". Times of india (Living Media). 28 June 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  13. ^ Landsberg, Steven. "The History of an Indian Musical Instrument Maker". 
  14. ^ image at Joseph Opala, "Origin of the Gullah",
  15. ^ "Nigeria bikers' vegetable helmets". BBC News. 6 January 2009. 
  16. ^ "Baile del Guacal [Dance of the Calabash]" (in Spanish). La Nación. 1 July 2010. 
  17. ^ Parrales, Freddy (29 January 2011). "Rey Curré se encendió con el baile de los diablitos [Rey Curré was ignited with the dance of the little fiends]" (in Spanish). La Nación. 
  18. ^ "No more singing in the shower: Chavez urges Venezuelans to limit their wash to three minutes amid water shortages". Daily Mail (London). 22 October 2009. 
  19. ^ Chavez y el comunismo on YouTube
  20. ^
  21. ^ Como hacer Totuma-Ducha comunista on YouTube
  22. ^

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Calabash — Cal a*bash (k[a^]l [.a]*b[a^]sh), n. [Sp. calabaza, or Pg. calaba[,c]a, caba[,c]a (cf. F. Calebasse), lit., a dry gourd, fr. Ar. qar , fem., a kind of gourd + aibas dry.] 1. The common gourd (plant or fruit). [1913 Webster] 2. The fruit of the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Calabash — Calabash, NC U.S. town in North Carolina Population (2000): 711 Housing Units (2000): 508 Land area (2000): 1.417715 sq. miles (3.671864 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.096456 sq. miles (0.249820 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.514171 sq. miles… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Calabash, NC — U.S. town in North Carolina Population (2000): 711 Housing Units (2000): 508 Land area (2000): 1.417715 sq. miles (3.671864 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.096456 sq. miles (0.249820 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.514171 sq. miles (3.921684 sq. km)… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • calabash — [kal′ə bash΄] n. [Fr calebasse < Sp calabaza; prob. < Ar qárʼ a yābisa, dry gourd] 1. a tropical American tree (Crescentia cujete) of the bignonia family, or its large, gourdlike fruit 2. a) an Old World tropical vine (Lagenaria siceraria)… …   English World dictionary

  • calabash — 1590s, dried, hollowed gourd used as a drinking cup, from Sp. calabaza, possibly from Arabic qar a yabisa dry gourd, from Pers. kharabuz, used of various large melons; or from a pre Roman Iberian *calapaccia …   Etymology dictionary

  • calabash — ► NOUN ▪ a water container, tobacco pipe, or other object made from the dried shell of a gourd. ORIGIN Spanish calabaza, perhaps from a Persian word meaning melon …   English terms dictionary

  • calabash —    Umeke, ipu, pā ipu, hōkeo, hue, hulilau, ōpū hue, ipu pāwehe.   Also: mā au au, palapa a, kākū, māhanakanaloa. See sayings, umeke.    ♦ Netted calabash carrier, kōkō a aha.    ♦ Strings by which a netted calabash is hung, kākai.    ♦ To tie up …   English-Hawaiian dictionary

  • calabash — UK [ˈkæləbæʃ] / US [ˈkæləˌbæʃ] noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms calabash : singular calabash plural calabashes a large tropical fruit whose thick hard skin is dried and used as a container or drum …   English dictionary

  • calabash — /ˈkæləbæʃ / (say kaluhbash) noun 1. any of various gourds, especially the fruit of the plant known as the bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria. 2. any of the plants bearing them. 3. a. the fruit of a bignoniaceous tree, Crescentia cujete, of… …  

  • calabash — puodyninė krescencija statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Bignonijinių šeimos dekoratyvinis, maistinis, vaisinis, vaistinis augalas (Crescentia cujete), paplitęs Centrinėje ir Pietų Amerikoje. Naudojamas puošybai. atitikmenys: lot. Crescentia… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

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