Cucumber (Cucumis Linn), a genus of cu-curbitaceous plants, to which likewise belongs the melon, having annual fibrous roots, brittle climbing stems, rough, unequally divided leaves, and tendrils formed of the abortive stipules. The cucumber is thus a sort of gourd, represented in its real type, better perhaps, by the colocynth gourd, a bitter, powerfully purgative species, known as C. (citrul-lus) colocynthis (Persoon). These plants are to be placed between the myrtles and passion flowers; to the latter, indeed, they are so closely allied that they scarcely differ except in some particulars of structure, their habit being the same. It has been conjectured that long continued cultivation has done much toward ameliorating the bitter and dangerous properties of this group of plants; for several allied kinds in their wild state, it is known, have proved deleterious. All the numerous cultivated varieties of the melon and cucumber are delicious or wholesome fruits. The writer has raised cucumbers from seeds received from the East Indies, which looked like the common cucumber, only smaller; they were so intensely bitter as to be worthless; and the stem end of the better sorts of garden cucumber is frequently bitter.
The drastic property is strong in many of the allied genera from Brazil, and in the squirting cucumber it exists in concentrated virulence. The common cucumber (C. sativvs, Linn.) is a native of tropical Asia. In cultivation it requires a deep and rich soil, an abundance of moisture, and continued heat. If planted late enough to escape the frosts, it will grow with scarcely any care. It is subject, however, to the depredations of numerous insects. The best way to prevent these is to cover the young plants with boxes having gauze tops, until the foliage is large and abundant. The cucumber loves to support itself by its tendrils in an upright position upon pieces of brushwood, and the cleanest and best fruit is thus obtained. This will be found to be a good practice, too, where there is but little room for horizontal growth. As an early vegetable, scarcely any plant can be so successfully forced in the hot-bed; but the best sorts should be selected for the purpose. Great skill oftentimes is requisite to keep the plants vigorous and healthy, and to sustain an unchecked growth.
Besides affording a palatable and cooling salad, the cucumber has been used in medicine for pectoral complaints and as a febrifuge.
Common Cucumber (Cucumis sativus).
Squirting Cucumber (Momordica elaterium).
Its expressed juice is employed as a cosmetic; and it is said to give a pleasant suppleness to the skin. It enters into the composition of some of the French pomades. Cucumber ointment is prepared by stirring and beating successive portions of the juice of green cucumbers with melted lard and veal suet, then draining off the watery portion and melting and straining the ointment. Its action is soothing and emollient. It is often applied to sore nipples and excoriations. - The squirting cucumber (momordica elaterium, Linn.; ecbalium agreste, Pritch.) grows in waste places in S. Europe, and is cultivated in England. Its fruit, when nearly ripe, separates from the stalk and ejects its seeds and juice, from which is derived a powerful drug. (See Elaterium).