Have you always thought, as I used to, that the inedible gnarly gourds of autumn are fairly weird, fairly useless garden oddities? That besides making attractive table ornaments or centerpieces for holiday entertaining and maybe bird houses, they seem mere whimsy and a waste of garden effort and space.
It turns out, there’s a great reason why for centuries humans have cultivated and prized gourds. Although some varieties, like Asian snake gourds, are actually fleshy and edible, most gourds were valued precisely because they were empty inside.
Sometimes, they also carved, painted, and polished whole gourds and prized them as toys, art or ritual objects, or as musical instruments such as rattles and drums (shown below right) and even guitars. Even now in parts of South America a traditional tea-like beverage called yerba maté is still drunk from calabash goblets, and certain Native American tribes still fashion gourds into ceremonial rattles, shakers and clubs.
Now that I actually “get” gourds, they’ve gained my respect. I’m wondering if, in the interest of going greener, we more advanced societies should embrace them again. They are sustainably produced, biodegradable, naturally lightweight, sturdy, and come almost ready to use and in nearly infinite shapes (note the strange goose-neck gounds below left!). Perhaps learning to produce the vast array of environmentally unfriendly plastic-ware, bottles, and jugs that now litter our landscape really wasn’t progress?