Thursday, March 3, 2016

How to Make a Gourd Water Bottle

All gourds are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, but not all members of that family are gourds. Some non-gourd members include pumpkin, squash, melons, zucchini, and cucumber. Of the true gourds there are two types: hard shelled, which are most often used as containers, utensils, etc and soft shelled gourds, which rot quickly and are solely ornamental. In some countries, gourds are called calabashes; there is some disagreement about exactly what a calabash is in botanical terms but most botanists distinguish them as only growing on trees while gourds grow on vines. I mostly work with Lagenaria siceraria, which translates to “drinking vessel”, or the hardshell bottle gourd.

I began the process of making my gourd water bottle almost six months ago when I purchased two kettle-type green gourds at the Common Ground Country Fair last September. Since the gourds were still fresh and green, I had to dry them before I could begin working. I simply left them in a corner of my room where I thought they would be out of the way and receive relatively good air flow, under a desk. After about a month, I noticed that they had began to grow a little mold on them but I simply wiped them down with a bleach covered towel every couple of days until the mold went away. Unfortunately, I must have caught it too late, as one of the gourds rotted from a point where it had been bruised while still green. By November, both gourds were dry but one had rotted in a way that deformed it and it was unusable. The shell that was left was too thin and brittle to do anything with. Although the skin or the other was also thinner than I would have liked, it was definitely usable. It had very interesting coloration on it from where the mold had been that I could have easily sanded off (most craftspeople generally do this) but I thought it looked nice so I let it be.

I then began the process of cleaning and sealing the gourd to make it a waterproof vessel. I sliced off a small portion at the very top of the gourd using a knife so that there was a cork sized hole in it. 

A metal clothes hanger had to be bent and used to scrape out the dried connective tissue and seeds because the hole was too small to reach inside with any other tool available to me. Dozens of seeds came out of the gourd, and, if store properly, should be viable for several years. 

In the process of poking around with a metal wire, I accidentally punctured the shell slightly. To seal this hole, I made pitch by melting pine sap on a spoon and mixing it with charcoal from a fire. After being dripped on the bottle, it dried almost immediately. 

I rinsed out the inside but realized that it absorbed a lot of water and became quite soft. To combat this, I decided to seal it with beeswax. I melted beeswax on the stove and poured it in the gourd, swished it around, and poured it back into the pan. I repeated this several time until the inside was sealed completely. I then dipped the tip into the wax several times until and nice mouthpiece was formed. The added wax also created a tighter seal around the cork.

Since this bottle gourd was not an hourglass shape, I had to weave a net around it in order to attach a strap. I decided to use flax because it was one of the first domesticated fibers and is extraordinarily strong. I made about twenty 1 yard pieces of four ply cordage by folding single strands in half and having a friend hold the other each, each person twisting the fiber in opposite directions until it started to bunch. When each person brought their ends together, the opposite twist would make it cling to itself and creating a sturdy piece of cordage. To make the net, I followed a technique traditionally used to make the African instrument known as a “shekere” but without the noise making addition of seeds, shells, or beads. I tied one piece of cordage around the neck of the gourd. Every ¼ - ½ inch, I attached a piece of cordage by folding it in half, pushing the first inch behind the cord around the neck and pulling the two ends through the loop formed by the bend in itself. This tightened it around the horizontal cord and left two cords hanging down. I repeated this until I had gone all the way around. I then tied each cord to its neighbor that is not the same piece about an inch down. Then, I went around again, tying each to the next to form a diamond shape. This continued until the net reached the bottom of the gourd at which point I tied them all together. I poked a hole in the cork and pushed another cord of flax through and tied both ends to the net so the cork would not get lost. Then, I card wove a strap, again out of flax, and attached it to the net so I could carry the bottle over my shoulder.



“Of all the known plants, the gourd is the only one experts believe spanned the entire globe in prehistoric times. It appears as one of the first cultivated plants in regions throughout the world and was used by every known culture in the temperate and tropical zones” (Summit, Widess 1996).

According to Ginger Summit and Jim Widess, authors of “The Complete Book of Gourd Craft”, nobody's entirely sure where domesticated gourds originated from. Remains of gourds dating back many thousands of years have been found in areas with a suitable climate in North and South America, Africa, and Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Some believe that gourds originated in the western hemisphere but there are also many wild ancestors of gourds in Africa. One theory even argues that gourds drifted in oceanic currents to the western hemisphere from Africa and were growing there long before humans arrived in 12,000 B.C. (Summit and Widess 1996). Some of the earliest specimens of gourd seeds and shell fragments have been found in the Americas including some that were from 10,000 B.C. found in Ayacucho, Peru, 13,000 year old seeds found alongside mastodon remains in Gainesville, FL, and 9,000 to 12,000 year old specimens from the Ocampo Caves in Mexico. A species of gourd was one of the first cultivated plants in the mid-Mississippi region in North America between 2,000-3,000 B.C (Summit and Widess 1996). Some small wild gourds native to North America include Okeechobenis from Florida, C. texana from the Mississippi valley area, Ozarka from Eastern North America and the buffalo gourd from arid regions of the Southwest of the United States (Summit and Widess 1996)

Before gourd were used as containers, they were used as food and medicine. The small fruits of some species are palatable (some are very bitter), the seeds were utilised as a high protein, high fat food, and the roots, leaves, stems, fruits, and flowers had medicinal uses (Summit and Widess 1996). According to Charles Heiser, author of “The Gourd Book”, containers are the most common use of gourds, but there are so many thousands of uses, they all can’t be named. They make the ideal receptacle for water or dairy products as they cool the contents through evaporation like earthenware jars (Heiser 1979). Gourds were used as containers long before basketry or pottery, and remain popular even after the invention of pottery because they are lighter to carry when transporting goods (Summit and Widess 1996; Heiser 1979). Some of the earliest pottery even mimics the shape of a gourd. Some historians believe that primitive basketry originated in the form of wrapping cordage around gourds to use as a handle, protective covering, or to attach them to fishing nets as floats (Summit and Widess 1996). The hourglass shape found in some species of gourd allows one to attach a rope easily. When the gourd is not naturally that shape, many will tie a rope around it early in its development so it is cinched in and it grows  (Heiser 1979). Gourds are commonly used to store grains, and other solid foods, such as honey or salt around the world but are used to store and transport every manner of supplies (Summit and Widess 1996). Summit and Widess cite many uses of  gourds around the world. In New Zealand, bird and rat meat is preserved in its own fat and stored in decorated gourds to be served at special occasions. American settlers believed that eggs lasted longer and were kept safe from pests if kept in bushel gourds and Native Americans dropped hot rocks in gourds to boil water. Archaeologists know that gourd ladles were used to pour and spread batter on hot stones in Middle and Southwest America because of gourds found with scorched bottoms. In Japan, gourd sake bottles were family heirlooms that were entrusted with the eldest sons. The Chokwes of Northeastern Angola stored ants in gourds, removing their wings and packing them between layers of salt before adding hot water and stopping the gourd up tightly (Heiser 1979). In Africa and America, babies are fed with small gourd bottles and sometimes even bathes or rocked to sleep in large ones (Summit and Widess 1996). Many drinks are also fermented in gourds. The Masai in Kenya collect blood from cows by poking a small hole in the jugular vein that is small enough it allows the cow to live. They either use the blood alone or mix it with milk, honey, or urine. It is then fermented for several days  before being drunk by men preparing for the hunt or war. In America, beer was sometimes fermented in gourds and Hawaiians ferment poi in them for several weeks (Summit and Widess 1996).

Gourds also have a vast array of other uses such as instruments, clothing, birdhouses, containers for rubbing oils or body dyes, medicine, seeds, bait, or gunpowder, and even as an item of currency, to name a few. The national currency in Haiti is known as a “gourde” (Summit and Widess 1996). Gourds are also found widely in art and religious ceremonies and play important roles in many myths. Many groups of people include gourds in their creation stories, often times consisting of a broken gourd spilling out the universe or parts of it (Summit and Widess 1996).

Works Cited
Heiser, Charles B. The Gourd Book. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1979. Print.

Summit, Ginger, and Jim Widess. The Complete Book of Gourd Craft: 22 Projects, 55 Decorative Techniques, 300 Inspirational Designs. Asheville, NC: Lark, 1996. Print.

Disclaimer: This blog is just my own opinion, nothing more. While I try my hardest, everything may not be completely accurate or complete. Sorry, I'm only human, so do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make money from this blog (seriously not very much at all guys). If you click on any of the links in my blog I may make money from it. I'm not sponsored by any of these people I just honestly love these products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practitioner; consult a health professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment. 


  1. That is awesome! Thanks for sharing the process.

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