Gourds have been called gifts from the gods. Experts believe their growth spanned the entire globe in prehistoric times. Although many believe them to be one of the first cultivated plants, very little remains to support this. In Peru seeds were found dating back to 10,000 B.C., and recently in Gainsville, Florida, dating from 11,000 B.C.
The role of gourds in world cultures is a rich contribution. Gourds are thought to be the first containers, predating even baskets and clay pots. All parts of the gourd plant were used in early cultures. Young gourds were eaten, while the roots stems, fruit and flowers were often used in medicines. Their most common use was as a container or vessel for storing and transporting food. Salt and honey were collected and traded or sold in gourds. American settlers thought that eggs kept in bushel gourds kept longer and were safer from pests. In Hawaii, poi was mixed in huge gourds and allowed to ferment for several weeks. It was also used to make fermented drinks in some cultures. Beer was also made from various grains and plants, mixed and fermented in gourds throughout the Americas. Gourd musical instruments have been found in every recorded ancient culture, and their forms are uniquely diverse. Most frequent was the rattle, with the addition of seeds, pebbles, or shells. Gourds were also used as resonators, horns, whistles and flutes.
The gourd played a powerful role in origin myths of diverse peoples in Asia, Hawaii, Africa and among Indian tribes of the Americas. There are many examples of how the gourd, on being thrown down or split open, became heaven and earth. According to one myth, the oceans all the fished of the sea, and all of the creatures of the earth crawled out of a cracked open gourd. Good spirits were believed to be transported to earth within a gourd, and evil spirits were captured in the same vessel. Songs, chants, and prayers in every language pay homage to the wonderful mystery and power of this remarkable plant.
Gourds need long growing seasons, one hundred days or longer. They are in the same family as pumkins, melons, and squash. These are soft shells, gourds are called hard shells. Some gourds have thick walls others thin (1). You can direct sow gourd seeds into your garden of start them indoors in four inch pots a few weeks ahead of your last frost date. I cover all my transplants with one gallon milk jugs (I cut off the bottoms) for two weeks after transplanting.