Rosie Lerner, Purdue Consumer Horticulture Specialist
Released October 12, 1998
While gourds are often a part of today's Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, they date back to 2200 B.C., making them among the oldest cultivated plants in history. Since the times of the Egyptian tombs, their shells have been used as dippers or containers for grain storage; other types are edible when young and tender.
The term "gourd" is most correctly applied to the hard-shelled members of the vine crops known as cucurbits and includes plants of several species. Today, gourds can still be used as functional tools, such as birdhouses, dippers, lanterns and storage bins. Many gourds are used to add a harvest look to autumn decorations.
Although each gourd may have its own characteristics, in general gourds are ready to harvest when the rinds are firm and the stems begin to turn brown and dry. Gourds should be harvested when they are fully mature, but before frost.
Gourds should be "cured" or air-dried prior to use. First, wash them with warm, soapy water and then place on layers of newspaper to dry for about a week. During this time, the outer skin hardens and surface color sets. Replace the newspaper with fresh sheets and allow the gourds to finish drying for an additional three to four weeks. To encourage drying and good color retention, dry gourds in a warm, dry, dark area such as a closet or under a bed.
Decorative gourds can be displayed in their natural state for three to four months. Applying wax, shellac or varnish can prolong shelf life for several more months and will lend a shiny coat to the exterior.
Last updated: 10 April 2006
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