A gourd is a name given to the hollow, dried shell of a fruit in the Cucurbitaceae family of plants of the genus Lagenaria. It is in the same family as the pumpkin. Gourds are the product of the calabash or African bottle gourd, native to Africa, which at a very early date spread throughout the world by human migration. This species may be the oldest plant domesticated by humans.
Gourds were originally used by people as containers or vessels before clay or stone pottery. The original and evolutional shape of clay pottery is thought to have been modeled on the shape of certain gourd varieties.
In addition to utilitarian uses, gourds have seen other functions throughout history in various cultures. Very early specimens of squash shells discovered in Peru indicate the use of squashes as means of recording events of the time. In North America, the carving of pumpkins and some other squashes into Jack-o-Lanterns is a popular cultural activity during Halloween.
The shell of the gourd, when dried, has a wooden appearance. Drying gourds, which takes months in some cases, causes the internal contents to dry out completely, although seeds are often still capable of germination. For the uninitiated, cutting open a dried gourd can present hazards. The resulting dust is extremely fine and can cause respiratory problems.
It has also been found that gourd skins were used to replace missing portions of skulls in Neolithic times as part of surgery. This is seen as evidence of prostheses made of very fine gold sheet and gourd skins, which were inserted in the skull under the skin or to cover the hole left by an operation.
Generally, gourds are used more for utilitarian uses than for food. Only a few varieties are harvested for consumption, mostly in Asia. White gourd juice is a common beverage retailed in China and Chinese outlets outside China. It has a unique, smokey taste.