Leraka or African gourd (Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl.) is a hard-shelled bitter fruit growing in Africa for 11,000 years. It is green or lime green but also has various other colours with different shapes (bottle or oval) and sizes, it is similar to those of a squash except the shell is much harder than the normal popular squash and is a vigorous annual herb. Stems prostrate or climbing, angular, ribbed, thick, brittle, softly hairy, up to 5 m long, leaves simple, up to 400 mm long and 400 mm broad, shortly and softly hairy, broadly egg-, kidney- or heart-shaped in outline with crisped, cream or white colour. Fruit large, variable, up to 800 x 200 mm, sub globose to cylindrical propagated by direct seeding or by seedlings in the environment of well-drained moist area, warm and sunny position away from the wind. The product harvested mainly from April to July.
Larakia’s hard outer shell has many purposes, for thousands of years for food and used for cutlery and utensils, it is dried and hollowed into different useful things like bowls, cups, forks, spoons, storage unit for fruits and vegetables, bottled water and to make all sorts of musical instruments such as Water drum, Gourd rattle, Zither etc.
It is a tribe’s belief that women are responsible for cultivating leraka because it was a well-respected fruit amongst most African tribes and it was seen as a symbol of womanhood, it would be dried by the elderly tribal women to make cutlery and utensils for the household.
The fact that leraka was the first domesticated African crop has ancestral history in food culture and it has now come down to just decorative artifacts, it is only cultivated in small quantities for decorative for tourist attraction and only by small rural farmers in south Africa.
It is a need to encouraged communities for extending and cultivating of this product and sell to the public for consumption, instead of only promoting the hybrid squash or only using gourd for decorative purposes. Restaurants and chef’s need to come up with delicious dishes that will attract the market to invest and cultivate leraka.