In the winter in Colorado you can’t get me to buy cucumbers, but come summer, there’s always one or two in my fridge. In addition to being a refreshing and delicious side dish on my summer table, cucumbers have profound medicinal benefits. Cucumbers have many active constituents, including an anti-inflammatory flavonol called “fisetin” which may improve brain health. Cucumbers offer compounds that are antioxidants, so they help prevent systemic “rusting” or oxidation, as it is scientifically termed. They are known botanically as Cucumis sativus and they’re actually a fruit, not a vegetable, in the same family as melons, zucchini and pumpkin.
Here are 9 fresh, fun ideas to help you enjoy the surplus of cucumbers from your garden this summer:
1. Soothe itchy or puffy eyes.
Cut 2 slices off and lay upon your closed eyes. This feels especially comfy if you have red, itchy eyes from allergies or from a sleepless night. You can also cut slices and put in a jar of water and infuse the water for an hour in the refrigerator, then make a compress using the cucumber water and a washcloth. Squeeze it and lay it upon your eyes.
2. Juice them.
The subtle flavor of cucumbers makes them easy to blend with other fruit and vegetable juices. They contain lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinol which are 3 important compounds when it comes to reducing risk of reproductive cancers (ovarian, breast, uterine, prostate). Side note: secoisolariciresinol is also found in flax.
3. Heal minor burns.
Cut the slices lengthwise and apply to areas of sunburn. Or use my compress idea from above (only add lavender essential oil to the infused cucumber water).
4. Drink cucumber water.
Cut cucumbers into 1/2 slices along with 1/4 slices of lemon and put into a beautiful glass decanter or carafe with some ice and cold water. Let them marinate in the refrigerator for an hour and then drink all day. Among the many health benefits, you may experience a mild diuretic effect which could help with blood pressure and weight loss.
5. Eat them.
The profound medicinal benefits of cucumbers might not be apparent. I’ll bet you walk right past them in the produce section all the time without giving them a second thought! These guys can block COX2 enzymes (similar to Celebrex, a popular anti-inflammatory medication), dampening down pain-causing cytokines. While cukes are not as strong as drugs, I’d still chop some into your salad along with fresh tomatoes and basil leaves. Finish with cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
This salad adds fiber which in turn helps you manage weight.
6. Treat acne.
Cucumbers have the ability to remove dirt, dead skin cells, bacteria, and leftover make-up residue. They naturally calm and cool inflamed, red areas on your skin. Put a quarter of an unpeeled cucumber in your food grinder along with 2 drops of tea tree oil and 5 drops of lavender. Grind to a smooth consistency and apply as a all-over facial mask or just dab on affected areas.
7. Make a facial toner.
Slice cucumbers into a 2 cups pure distilled water. Let marinate for an hour, then strain out the cucumbers so you are left with cucumber water. Add 1 tablespoon of organic aloe vera leaf juice, 10 drops essential oil of lavender and 5 drops jasmine. If you have oily skin then also add 5 drops helichrysum. If you have dry skin, use rose oil.
8. Boats and cups.
Cucumber boats may not be as satisfying as bread, but they’re a fresh way to slim down. Think of them as gluten-free sandwiches! Slice your cucumbers in half lengthwise and dig a little ditch down the middle, removing the seeds. Then spoon chicken or tuna salad into the ditch you created. Sprinkle with cayenne or parsley for color. You can even heat them up before you fill them.
For a sweet low-fat alternative to brownies, spoon some watermelon salad into these cucumber boats.
My assistant Michele likes to cook, she’s actually a chef and she likes to make cucumber cups. Here’s a recipe from her:
Slice cucumbers into 1.5 inch slices, then carefully create a little “bowl” on one side using a spoon. Pipe in smoked salmon laced cream cheese spread and top with a tiny sprig of dill.
9. Agua fresca.
Some of my favorite summer drinks are cool, refreshing agua frescas (“fresh waters” in Spanish). They are popular during the hot summer months in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America.
This recipe is really easy and can quench your thirst and help with nail growth (due to the high content of silica found in cucumbers). It’s also from Michele, whom many of you have spoke to on the phone. Let me know what you think, or if you have your own adaptation of fresca!
Cucumber-Mint Agua Fresca
2 large unpeeled cucumbers, preferably organic, chopped into chunks and seeded if desired
1 ½ cups fresh packed mint leaves
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup coconut sugar or honey
1 ½ cups water
Directions- add to your blender in this order: Water, lime juice, cucumbers, sugar/honey, mint. Add a handful of ice cubes. Top blender off with water until it’s ¾ full.
Puree on high speed until mixture is liquefied.
Taste with a spoon for sweetness: This agua fresca should be a little bit tart and only mildly sweet. Add more sugar or honey if you wish and then blend for a few more seconds. Once flavor is to your liking, pour mixture into a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or large measuring cup. Press out liquid with a spatula until all that remains in the strainer are the solids.
Serve in glasses over ice with a sprig of fresh mint. You can make a lot all at once, and store it, you will love sipping this all summer long, and it still retains the silica and antioxidants of the cucumbers. Post your own recipes below.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.