Cucumis sativus (the garden cucumber) is thought to have been in cultivation for at least 3000 years. They originated in India and were most likely introduced to Europe by the Greeks or Romans. Cucumbers were reportedly used by the Romans as treatment for scorpion bites and bad eyesight. Records of cucumber cultivation in North America appear by the mid-16th century. For a brief period in the 17th century it was thought to be unsafe to eat raw fruits and vegetables. Uncooked produce was given to livestock, and there is speculation that this is where the moniker “cowcumber” may have originated.
Fruit or Vegetable?
The cucumber is considered a fruit since they contain seeds and grow from flowering plants. They are members of the same plant family as squash and melons. There are two types of cucumber plants: vining and bush cucumbers. Vining cucumbers grow on vines with large leaves, and grow best when allowed to climb a trellis or fence. Bush cucumbers are better suited to containers and smaller gardens. They love sun and water and will grow quickly when they receive consistent care.
Cucumbers are low in calories and are made up of 95% water. They are also a good source of fiber – but don’t peel them, as most of the fiber is found in the skin. Other nutrients found in cucumbers include: vitamins C and K, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. Vitamin K is especially important for bone health as it increases bone density and restores calcium balances. Cucumbers are also high in antioxidants that may reduce the risk of the following health conditions: cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and autoimmune disease. The high water content is thought to aid in weight loss and promote hydration.
Scheduling a spa day? Bring the cucumber! They are thought to decrease swelling, irritation, and inflammation when used topically. Cucumber slices can also help alleviate sunburn and puffiness, though a high vegetable intake does promote a healthy complexion overall.
Don’t Like Cucumbers?
Of course, cucumbers are also wildly consumed in their second-best form: pickles. Cucumbers specifically grown for pickling are called “picklers”. They are soaked in brine, which is water saturated with salt and other ingredients such as vinegar, dill, garlic, and lime.
When shopping for cucumbers, be sure to choose firm cucumbers and avoid shriveled ends. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
We’ve found two ways to use cucumbers that are sure to beat the summer heat. Enjoy!
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 cup sliced cucumbers
- 2 limes, sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- Ice cubes
- In a half-gallon jar, or a 2 quart pitcher, layer the strawberries, cucumbers, lime slices, and mint leaves with the ice cubes. Fill jar or pitcher with water. Let chill for 10 minutes, and then enjoy!
Cucumber and Mint Sorbet
- 150g sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- Handful of mint
- 300g cucumber, diced
- For the mint syrup: place sugar, water and mint in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring a bit to dissolve the sugar, until it reaches boiling point and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool.
- While the syrup is cooling, cut up and puree the cucumber.
- Add the cooled syrup to the cucumber puree and blend until it’s a nice, smooth consistency. Strain out the pulpy bits using a sieve.
- Freeze. If using an ice cream maker, follow the manual’s instructions for sorbet. If not, stir regularly as it freezes to break up the ice crystals.
- Before serving, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften up and become ultra-scoopable. Delicious!