(Quasi curvimeres, from their curvature, according to Varro). The Cucumber. The cucumber hath a flower consisting of one leaf, which is bell-shaped, expanded toward the top, and cut into many segments, of which some are male, others female. The best fruit is long, and of a deep green. This plant is annual, and raised from seed, the best of which is long and thick, with a thin rind. See Cucumis hortensis.
Cucumis agrestis; called also cucumis asininus, elaterium officinarum boubalios, guarerba orba. The wild or squirting cucumber. The fruit from whence the elaterium of the shops is obtained, is the momordica elaterium Lin. Sp. Pi. 1434. This fruit is watery, hairy, and almost of an oval shape, about two inches in length: when ripe, it bursts on being touched, and throws out with violence its whitish juice and black seeds. It is sown in our gardens annually, but is found wild in many other countries. The Greeks call it elaterion, from to dart; and from whence it is called the squirting cucumber. The same term is applied to any purging medicine that acts with violence. All the parts of the wild cucumber are strongly purgative; the fruit is the most so, and the root more active than the leaves. The juice of the fruit hath an unpleasant smell, and a durable nauseous bitter taste: on standing a few hours, it separates into a thick part, which falls to the bottom, and a thin watery fluid, which floats above. The dried juice, or faecula of the fruit, known in the shops by the name of elaterium, is the only part now medicinally employed, and has been distinguished into white and black elaterium: the first is prepared of the juice which issues spontaneously, the latter from that which is obtained by expression. It is a strong, irritating, but slow, cathartic; and often operates with violence as an emetic, disappointing the practitioners in its other effects. It remarkably raises the pulse, appearing to excite for a time a feverish state; and is, therefore, only used in cold phlegmatic constitutions, and in dropsy, a disease in which it was much employed by Sydenham and Lister. (See Sydenham's Works, and Listeri Exercitationes Medicinales de Hydrope). It is undoubtedly the most violent purgative in the materia medica, and ought, therefore, to be administered with great caution, and only where the milder cathartics have proved ineffectual. The dose is from half a grain to three grains: the most prudent and effectual mode of exhibition in dropsies is by repeating it in small doses, at short intervals; or employing it to quicken other purgatives. Four grains of extract of gentian, and a quarter of a grain of elaterium, formed into a pill, and repeated every two hours till it operates sufficiently by stool, and given every third or fourth day, is said to have been efficacious in reducing dropsical swellings, and affording an opportunity for the exhibition of tonics.
The London college directs the following method of preparing elaterium:
Slit ripe wild cucumbers, and strain the juice, very gently pressed, through a very fine hair sieve, into a glazed vessel; set it by for some hours, till its thicker part shall have subsided; then pour off the thin part of the juice, and separate the rest by straining; let the thicker part which remains be covered over with a linen cloth, and dried by a gentle heat. Pharm. Lond. 1788.
Care should be taken not to press the cucumber so as to force out any of the pulp; for thus the preparation will be proportionably weakened. An extract made with wine from the roots is equally useful with this faecula, called elaterium.
Elaterium is mentioned as a purging medicine by Hippocrates: sometimes it occasions great uneasiness in the bowels, if too large a dose is given; in which case acids and mucilages are the proper antidotes. Sec Raii Hist.: Lewis's Materia Medica; and Cathartics.
Cucumis AEgyptius. Chate, or Egyptian cucum-beb. It is more white, soft, and round than our garden cucumber, but of similar qualities.
Cucumis Canadensis. Sec Sicyos.
Cucumis colocynthis. See Colocynthis.
Cucumis hortensis, cucumis vulgaris, cucumis sativus, or garden cucumber.
The seeds of this species are the only part used in medicine. They have usually been prescribed in a mixture of equal portions of the seeds of the citrullus, or water melon; cucurbita, or gourd; and pepo, or pompion; under the general name of the greater cold seeds. The seeds of all these plants are similar in their medical properties. The fruit of the cucumber is not very nutritious, though it makes a considerable part of the aliment of many persons in warm climates and seasons; and its aqueous and cooling quality renders it very proper for summer aliment, and an agreeable food in hot, bilious dispositions. From the sponginess of its texture, it is often retained long in the stomach, occasioning acidity and flatulence; hence it should be accompanied with a large proportion of aromatics. Formerly the seeds were beat into an emulsion with other ingredients, but now are rarely employed, the almond emulsion superseding their use.