A gourd is a plant of the family Cucurbitaceae. One of the earliest domesticated types of plants, subspecies of the bottle gourd, have been discovered in archaeological sites dating from as early as 13,000 BC.
A study of the bottle gourd's DNA suggests that two distinct subspecies of bottle gourds exist, domesticated independently in Africa and Asia. These gourds were brought to Europe and the Americas very early in history, being found in Peruvian archaeological sites dating from 13,000 to 11,000 BC and Thailand sites from 11,000 to 6,000 BC. Gourds found in the Americas appear to have come from the Asian subspecies. Gourds continued to be used throughout history, in almost every culture throughout the world.
Gourds have had numerous uses throughout history, including tools, musical instruments, objects of art, toys, decoration, and food. In Europe the bottle gourds were used as birdhouses to attract purple martins, which provided bug control for agriculture. Almost every culture had musical instruments made of gourds, including drums, stringed instruments common to Africa and wind instruments. Cultures from arid regions often associated gourds with water.
Some countries have been working on crossbreeding members of the bitter gourd genus to reduce the unpleasant taste while retaining the nutritional and medicinal values of the plants.
A technique has been developed of tying a two-part mould around young gourds, or a part of them, so that the gourd grew into the mould and took its shape. Shaped gourds had various decorative uses, especially as boxes, bottles and other containers. Today, gourds are commonly used for a wide variety of crafts, including jewelry, furniture, dishes, utensils and a wide variety of decorations using carving, burning and other techniques. Todays gourds come in all shapes and sizes.