A calabash (Lagenaria siceraria), also called opo squash or bottle gourd, is a type of vine grown for its fruit. The fruit may be eaten when young, or dried when mature for use as a bottle, utensil, or musical instrument. Calabash is among the earliest plants to be cultivated. The thick, waterproof wall of the mature bottle gourd, which allows it to be used as a receptacle, is the product of cultivation. Wild calabashes recently found in Zimbabwe usually have much thinner walls.
This plant grows easily in the wild and is well distributed throughout tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It is believed to have originated either in Asia or Africa. Many other Lagenaria species are native to Africa. Calabash was being cultivated in the Americas as long ago as 8,000 years. It is unknown whether the gourds drifted across the water of the Atlantic Ocean or Bering Strait or whether they were carried over by people.
Calabash is used in a great many native cuisines, including those of East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean, and Central America. The fruit may be cooked as a squash or served in stews, soups, or stir-frys. In Japan, it may be used in sushi, or marinated and dried in strips.
The toasted, ground seeds of the calabash are used to make the traditional Central American drink horchata. In Tanzania, the seeds are cooked in sugar, brightly colored, and sold as sweets. In addition to the fruit, the leaves, shoots, and tendrils of the plant are also edible.
The calabash is also used as a container or utensil in cultures throughout the world. Some of the most common uses are as a bottle to store or carry liquid, and as a bowl for food. Traditional musical instruments are made out of the calabash, including rattles, drums, and the African stringed instruments kora, ngoni, and goje. The bottle gourd can also be used to make a smoking pipe.
In parts of India, the hollowed out calabash is used as a floating device to help teach swimming. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the bottle gourd is held to have healing properties and is often used as a container for medicines. The vessel is also used in China to house pet crickets, which are kept for their fighting ability and the noise they make. The gourd amplifies and enhances the crickets' song.