Cucumbers are high in water and have a mild, refreshing flavor. They can help with dehydration and are tasty in hot weather. The cucumber is a fruit that is eaten as a savory food. It is also found in some cosmetics. But did you know how the word cucumber came to be?
Cucumbers were once referred to as “cowcumbers.” They were thought to be only suitable for animal fodder.
The Word Cucumber
The origin of the cucumber’s name is straightforward. The crunchy vegetable was known as cucumerem in Latin, which either passed up through Old French as cocombre and then to English, or was taken straight from the Roman root in Wycliffe’s first English-language translation of the Bible, which does mention the veggie by name a few times. The best guess for the word’s origin before Latin is a pre-Italic Mediterranean language, which is a fancy way of saying we have no idea.
But the story of the cucumber’s reputation, it was once despised in 17th-century England, is a little more complicated. Cucumbers originated in the lower Himalayas and have been grown for millennia throughout the Old World. The Romans loved them so much that they went to the trouble of designing greenhouses just to grow them though it’s likely that they ate them small, more like what we’d call gherkins nowadays.
Prickly vines were blooming in France by the early Middle Ages, and they were reported to grow in England, always a little late to the game by the 1320s. Interestingly, there was an Old English word for cucumber, eorthappel or literally earth apple, implying that they were known in England before 1066. The year that most English scribes, now conquered by French kings, gave up the old language.
However, because most references to eorthappels come from Bible translations, it’s possible that old-timey Brits simply picked up the idea that cucumbers were some kind of ground fruit and made up a word that sounded reasonable. (Source: Bona Appetit)
The Cowcumber, Cucumber or Poisonous Cucumber?
Cucumbers, which had been enjoyed for centuries by the English, suddenly gained a reputation as being poisonous in the 18th century. As Dr. Johnson so eloquently demonstrated in his dictionary entry for the plant, they were regarded as little better than trash. They acquired the alternate name cowcumber around the same time, owing to their suitability only for animal fodder. On August 22, 1663, 350 years ago today.
Tom Newburne was dead of eating cowcumbers, and he’d just heard of another person dying of similar causes the day before. (Source: Bona Appetit)
Cool as Cucumber
The phrase cool as a cucumber comes from the cucumber’s ability to lower blood temperature. Cucumber also has the ability to cool the blood and reduce facial swelling when applied topically, which is why it is so popular in facial regimens.
Cucumber is an essential part of skin care because of their high water content and the presence of certain vitamins and minerals. Cucumber juice facial masks can be used to tighten the skin. Cucumbers contain ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, which can reduce water retention and thus reduce puffiness and swelling under the eyes. Cucumber skin can also provide relief from sunburn or windburned skin. (Source: Bona Appetit)
Image from GardenersPath