This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Belonging to the Melon tribe of plants, our Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) has been known and cultivated in North Western India for more than three thousand years. This is the only fruit we eat while still green without being cooked. Speaking generally, it is thought to be a questionable article of food, except for persons of rude, vigorous digestive powers. "But," says the Boston School Cooking Magazine (1897), "when eaten before the seeds are hardened, fresh from the vine, and without adding vinegar, or soaking in salt water, the Cucumber is more wholesome, nourishing, and digestible than the apple." Dr. Hutchison now tells us, on the contrary, that the Cucumber contains only 4 per cent of solids in its whole bulk, and is a type of one of the least nourishing of vegetables. Yet it must be said that for centuries past, the Cucumber has formed the staple diet of the people of Persia. In the time of our English George the First, a want of courage was popularly imputed to tailors, insomuch that nine of these pusillanimous worthies were needed to make one man; and, as report went, " 'Tis the opinion of our curious virtuosos that their lack of bravery ariseth from the immoderate eating of Cucumbers, which too much refrigirate their blood".
"I be that fond ov cowcumbers," says the Devon peasant, "I cude aight um tu ivery meal, but I can't digest um." Forty years or more ago even persons of title would talk of "Cow-cumbers"; whilst apple pie, and cherry pie, were the correct things, all the others being tarts. In the Levant, writes Tavernier, "If a child cries for something to eat, a raw Cucumber is given to it instead of bread".
The fact is well worthy of notice here that if our garden herb, the Salad Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba, so called quod sanguineos fluxus sistat) be more cultivated, and used, its small, finely-cut leaves, which have a distinct flavour of Cucumber, may be substituted, so as to convey without any disagreement of digestion the desired flavour to those delicate persons who are debarred from taking the real thing. These leaves when put into a cool tankard "give," says Gerarde, "a grace in the drykynge"
Allied to the Salad Burnet is the Pimpernel, Pimpinella, containing saponin, such as the Soapwort also furnishes. These herbs are of approved utility for subduing irritation of the urinary passages. Also as to the wild Pimpernel, or familiar little "Poor Man's Weather-glass," its decoction is held in esteem by country folk for checking pulmonary consumption in its early stages. Hill says there are many authenticated cases of this formidable disease having been absolubely cured by the said herb. Both it and the Soapwort (Miss Mitford's "Spicer," in Our Village), exercise special virtues against inveterate syphilis. The Cucumber tribe of plants (Cucurbitacece) includes the Colocynth, which is a powerful purgative, and the Bryony, which is highly poisonous. A certain acrid principle pervades the whole order; when this is greatly diffused, as in our cultivated Cucumber, the Water Melon, and the Pumpkin, the fruits are edible, and even delicious. But the stem end of the Cucumber is generally bitter, and the whole vegetable proves with some persons somewhat laxative.
When the wife of the great Socrates threw a teapot, or something less refined, at his erudite head, he remained "as cool as a Cucumber" (Colman's Heir at Law). Cucumber ointment, of modern manufacture, from the juice of the green pulp, mixed with lard, suet, and rose water, is remarkably emollient, cooling, and healing, whilst grateful to the sense of smell. The Germans put Cucumbers in salt until they undergo a vinous fermentation; the Dutch treat them with hot pepper.