April Crowell, Dipl.ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA CI & CP, CHN
Put the vitamin pack down and go eat a cucumber.
A little history
The humble cucumber (Cucumis Sativus) is a member of the gourd family, Curcurbitaceae. Like tomatoes and squash, cucumbers are actually a fruit in the strictest of botanical terms. They develop from a flower and their seeds are enclosed in their lovely flesh–tricky little devils. Originally from India, their cultivation dates back more than 3,000 years. Pliny the Elder valued their medicinal qualities. The Greeks and Romans feasted on cucumbers in the hot summer months and the fruit eventually wove its way to France and the rest of Europe. Not surprising then that cucumbers have made their way onto every continent and into every cuisine today.
There are several hundreds of varieties of cucumbers, not just the long, slender green ones we see in major stores. Cucumbers can be long or round and anywhere from green to yellow. Many varieties are lumped into three general categories: slicing, pickling and burpless….but that has never stopped me from pickling a slicer or slicing a pickler. Time to branch out a little? Although similar in energetics, Armenian cucumbers are technically a different species.
Bees and cucumbers
Bees, including honeybees and bumbles, are the natural pollinators of cucumbers. Throughout the world beekeepers will move their hives to local cucumber farmer’s sites just for the bloom. The honey the bees produce from this pollen is light and delicate and keeps our bees in business. Why do I mention this? Well, if you are growing cucumbers, you need pollinators as most plants are not self-compatible–meaning they can’t pollinate themselves. This also usually means they need a buddy plant or two nearby to help them form seeds and fruit. Otherwise you may end up with little to no yield or misshapen fruit–bummer. The traditional varieties produce both male and female blossoms, but many gynoecious hybrids just skip the whole male blossom.
The exception is that a few cultivars varieties have been created to grow in green houses and require no bees for pollination. These varieties still bloom but create cucumbers that are seedless. Generally, these cucumbers are considered to be of less quality, their natural way of growing and pollination taking second place to having a constant growing season, a uniform fruit and…seeds! No, we can’t be bothered with those pesky seeds. The trend is popular in much of American mainstream agriculture. Be cautious of insecticides as they will kill off the pollinators too. And take a trim to your local farmer’s market to see the varieties that are once again being grown in America. Find out more about bees.
Western nutritional highlights
Cukes are nearly 95% water bound up in dietary fiber. They contain most of the essential vitamins our bodies need of a day including: vitamin A, B1, B6, C & D, calcium, folate, magnesium, potassium and trace minerals. The skin is higher in vitamin C, silica and sulfur.
Eastern energetics of cucumbers
Very cooling nature. The flesh is sweet and slightly bitter while the skin is very bitter. Enters the Stomach, Spleen and pancreas, Lungs and Large Intestines. Strongly nourishes Yin and purges parasites. Chinese medicine practitioners looking to recommend cucumbers for medicinal reasons the client will have a rapid pulse (indicating heat), especially in the Stomach and Middle Burner position, and a red tongue which may or may not be peeled. If there is heat…use cucumbers. There cooling nature still remains even after they are cooked or stewed.
Replenishes Yin and fluids–Excellent for Summer Heat and dry, hot conditions. They are also very beneficial in patterns of Yin deficiency heat (false heat) like menopause and hot-flashes.
Clears heat in the Middle Burner--Chinese medicine terms here. This form of heat attacks the Stomach, Spleen and Pancreas and appears as conjunctivitis, burning sensation in the stomach, acid reflux, ulcers, bleeding and burning gums, pancreatitis, and diabetes. Cucumber also clear bad breath, which is a Stomach heat pattern in Chinese medicine.
Clears damp heat in the Lower Burner–Huh? Bladder infections, Kidney infections, and painful hot urination, yeast infections, epididymitis and vaginitis are examples of damp heat in the Lower Burner.
Treats sore throat and dry Lung conditions–Chronic dry throat, sinus and dry, tight lungs–cukes to the rescue. Their Yin nourishing nature replenishes the delicate fluid balance in the Lungs, which rules over the throat and sinuses.
Treats burns–any, and all burns. Apply slices of cucumbers or grated cucumber packs to sun burns or any burns to cool and replenish the skin.
Benefits the hair, nails and joints–Cucumbers are a rich source of silica and sulfur which are essential for strong hair, nails, tendons and ligaments.
Purifies and nourishes the skin–Besides treating burns, cucumbers treat any hot skin conditions like acne, rashes, inflammation, swelling and eczema. Apply a poultices of grated or sliced cucumbers to affected skin, as well as, eating some cucumbers to aid the body’s internal healing functions of the skin. Cucumbers are also famous for their ability to relieve swollen and puffy eyes–yeah, it’s real and not just a cute trick.
Strong diuretic and anti-toxin, treats arthritic and gout conditions— Cucumbers and/or cherry juice are my most common recommendations for gout and swelling. Hyper acid conditions like gout, arthritis, RA, and other painful obstruction syndromes are quickly treated by cucumber juice which lower uric acid levels quickly. The addition of carrot juice to the cucumber actually increases the uric acid reducing.
Treats intestinal worms--Cucumber contain erepsis, an enzyme that cleans and clears the intestines and destroys intestinal worms including tape worms.
Aids in the fight against cancer–Cucumbers contain the lignans lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinol, which have been helpful in reducing the risk of cancers including breast, ovarian and prostate.
Helps treat diabetes–Cucumbers contain a little hormone that stimulates cells in the pancreas to produce and regulate insulin thereby regulating blood sugar levels.
Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure--The sterols, potassium, fiber and magnesium in cucumbers make them very effective in reducing blood pressure and lowering blood serum cholesterol levels.
Improves digestion and promotes weight loss–Low, low calories and mostly water…who is going to gain weight eating cucumbers, unless you are shellacking them in ranch dressing. Because most of the water is actually bound in fiber, cucumbers are wonderful at helping to clear and cool the digestive system, pulling out excess toxins and accumulations. If you are someone with chronic constipation, consider making cucumbers a apart of your daily diet.
Energy boost–Mineral and vitamin rich without being loaded with heavy calories or sugar, cucumbers are a fantastic pick me up after a hard workout, when you are depleted or nursing a hang over.
Contraindications for cucumbers–Only those with extreme cold, and/or cold pattern diarrhea should avoid cucumbers. Avoid cucumbers during the cold months of the year–which if you are eating seasonally, they wouldn’t be available in nature anyway.
For now, while it is still hot enjoy cucumbers by themselves, dip them in hummus or babaganoush, make them into salads, pickle them, or even just sliced into water with a little vinegar, or make this simple sonomono