Calabash or bottle gourd or long melon is a vine generally cultivated either young or for fruit which is used as a vegetable. The gourd may be allowed to mature, dried and then used as pipe, utensil or bottle. Because of its bottle like size it is given the common name bottle gourd. The fresh fruit is light green in colour with smooth skin and white flesh. The round varieties are known as calabash gourds. It is one of the first varieties of plants generally used as a bottle not as a vegetable in the olden times. The plant derives its name from a Spanish word which means long melon.
Calabash is cultivated mainly in the tropical and subtropical areas all over the world. There is controversy regarding the origin of these plants. Some believe that they are native to Africa while others say that they are native to Asia. They grow very easily in wild. They are under cultivation in Europe much before Columbus discovered America. The rind of the domesticated calabash is waterproof and thick.
Calabash is used as a vegetable in Chinese cuisines may be fried or used in soups. The Chinese name of calabash is hulu. In Japan the larger varieties are generally used as containers while the smaller ones are used as vegetable. It is dried and sold in the form of marinated strips and is often used in making rolled sushi. In Burma it is a very popular fruit and the young leaves are boiled and eaten with hot spicy fish sauce. In Central America they are toasted and mixed with other ingredients to make a drink known as horchata. In India it is known as lauki and in Tamil Nadu the large gourds are used as floats while learning swimming in rural areas.
The shoots, tendrils and leaves are used as vegetable. The guard can be dried to make smoke pipe tobacco. Like other members of the cucurbitaceae family they are also known to contain cucurbitacins which are cytotoxins. A toxic compound known as tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacin is present in the fruits and vegetables of this family and it is responsible for the bitter taste and can even cause ulcers in the stomach. In very extreme cases some individuals have died after consuming the calabash juice.
In Caribbean calabash is generally used as utensils, such as cups, bowls, and basins especially in the rural areas. It can be used as a container for carrying water as well as a equipment while going for fishing. In some Caribbean countries they are even painted and decorated and used as shoulder bags which are sold to tourists. In West Africa hollowed bodies of these plants are used as utensils for household purposes. They are used to clean rice and are also used as food containers. Small ones are used as containers for drinking palm wine. They are also used by some musicians to make musical instruments.