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What are Gourds Used For?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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Gourds are a type of fruit within the pumpkin, cucumber, and melon families. The cucurbita family of gourds tend to be smaller, with softer skin, while the lagenaria family are larger, with harder skin and more flesh inside. There are a number of different varieties of gourds, though somewhat surprisingly, very few are used for cooking. Instead, common uses for gourds include decoration, the creation of musical instruments, carvings, and tools, among others. Traditionally associated with autumn decor, gourds can make an excellent choice for indoor and outdoor decoration.

Gourds come in various colors, including greens, browns, yellows, oranges, and reds. Gourds typically have very tough shells and fibrous inner flesh, which is what makes them virtually inedible. Displayed on their own or with a mix of autumn leaves and other fall decorations, these different colored gourds can make great centerpieces on a table. Some people also choose to showcase gourds outside, such as with pumpkins or corn stalks, for a beautiful autumn display.

Other common uses for gourds include drying the outer shell and scraping out the flesh to make a hollow container. Gourds have a wooden appearance when dried, and are quite sturdy. There are many different tips to be found online for drying gourds, but many suggest harvesting gourds at the end of the season, leaving about two inches of stem attached. Gourds are typically considered ready to harvest when the stems turn brown and dry up.

Place the gourds in a dry, cool, dark place where they can get plenty of airflow, and turn them regularly to prevent rot. Fleshier gourds, such as those from the lagenaria family, can take longer to dry than others; most gourds take four to six months to dry completely. Additionally, it is common for gourds to emit an unpleasant odor while they are drying, so it is a good idea to keep them separate from living space. When gourds are tapped and make a hollow sound, they are generally finished drying; they will also feel much lighter when picked up.

Dried gourds may be left whole and used for display, or they may be cut, hollowed, and carved into items such as birdhouses, bowls, pitchers, or mugs, among others. These are just a few common uses for gourds. Some cultures use hollowed gourds for musical instruments, masks, or tools. Growing these bright, colorful gourds at home is relatively simple, and one may be able to find many common uses for gourds around the house.

What Is a Gourd?

Gourds are a family of garden plants with the scientific name Cucurbitaceae. Pumpkins and the common varieties of edible squash that you are likely used to seeing at the grocery store are technically all in the same family as gourds; however, when people use the term gourd, they are generally referring to the more ornamental, colorful varieties of these plants. There are hundreds of varieties of gourds that grow in various sizes and colors. The plants themselves generally grow low to the ground, with vines that can extend far out from the center of the plant. Often, these vines will climb trellises or fences when allowed to grow up against them. While gourds are a common item in a vegetable garden, they are technically considered to be fruits.

Types of Gourds

While different types of gourds grow in a seemingly endless combination of colors, textures, and sizes, there are ways to differentiate them. There are four main types of gourds to look for:

  • Sponge Gourds
  • Snake Gourds
  • Bottle Gourds
  • Ornamental Gourds

Different types of gourds may require slightly different growing conditions for the home gardener to get the best results. The plants can be started from seeds and planted in a garden in the spring as the weather starts to warm up. Various varieties of gourds may also be available at farm stands, farmer's markets, or even grocery stores in the late summer and fall.

What Are Gourds Used For?

Different types of gourds have different purposes. While many people place gourds around their home or on their porch as decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving, there are many more ways to get creative with how you use these unique fruits.

Gourds as Decorations

Since they have extremely tough outer shells, gourds can be placed inside a person's home as decorative items without much risk of them rotting or making a mess. Ornamental gourds are the most common type to be used for this purpose. Their unique texture and shape can make them very visually interesting, and they are a classic type of decoration seen in the fall. Thanksgiving decor often takes advantage of these long-lasting fruits, which can stay in good shape long after the harvesting season has ended.

Other Uses

Gourds are unique in the vegetable world in that they can be used for many creative purposes after harvesting and drying out. Ancient cultures had many purposes for the plants, using them to create vessels for water, tools, and more. Today people use gourds for all kinds of handmade crafts, tools, and even household products. Sponge gourds are a perfect example of this, as they can actually be used to make your own all-natural shower luffas and sponges.

When left to dry, gourds with especially hard shells will cure and become hollow inside. This generally works best for bottle gourd varieties, which have a smooth, thick outer skin. Once they have dried out completely, you can use them for many different projects. One common use is to create a hole in the front and turn the cured gourd into a birdhouse. The outside of cured gourds can be painted to make them more decorative, as they often fade into various shades of beige and gray during the drying process. To ensure that the gourds have properly cured before using them for a project, simply shake them around and listen for the sound of seeds rattling inside.

Harvesting Gourds

Depending on the variety of gourd, there are different times when they will need to be harvested. Ornamental gourds should be picked and used as soon as the vines around them begin to dry up, as they will not cure well as bottle gourds do. Snake gourds and sponge gourds have specific harvest times depending on the variety. Many snake gourds grow extremely long. They can often be cured and used for projects in a similar way to bottle gourds.

Can You Eat Gourds?

Gourds have extremely hard shells, which would make them difficult to cook and are typically not used as food items. While for the most part, they are not harmful to eat, they are simply too difficult to prepare and do not have much flavor. There are many other types of squash that are edible and delicious, with hundreds of recipes that you can enjoy during fall and winter. The general rule of thumb is that softer shelled, less decorative-looking squash are better for eating. Pumpkins are also edible, with many ways to prepare the seeds as well as the fleshy part of the vegetable in soups and similar dishes.

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