Ah the humble cucumber — it sits patiently in the crisper drawer while its flashier cousins are being scooped up and devoured for dinner. The cucumber just waits and waits in all of its watery, melon-tinged mild manner. Maybe someone will make some pickles, maybe Mom will slice off a few rounds for her tired eyes … but really, aside from pickles and eye treatments, what is a cucumber’s claim to fame?
Maybe it’s the spike in temperature here in the now-steamy Northeast, but I have been going gaga for cucumbers lately — I never knew how fond I could be of the fresh-tasting and cool, albeit sometimes lackluster, fruit. It’s been taking center stage in chopped salads, finding its way into dips, and providing the base of a number of chilled soups. But why stop there? The cucumber is really a pretty amazing piece of work, both in the kitchen and in the bathroom where it can perform a multitude of beauty tasks.
The flesh of the cucumber is mostly water, but also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid, both of which help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling. These acids also prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis. Cucumbers are a great treat for the skin. They have the same pH as the skin so they help restore the protective acid mantle, and they also possess hydrating, nourishing and astringent properties.
Cucumbers’ skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium. The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone. Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve the complexion and health of the skin, plus cucumber’s high water content makes it naturally hydrating — a must for glowing skin.
1. Make a cooling summer bath
Call me an old granny, but I love Epsom salt baths and their surprising health benefits. But do I love taking a bath in 95-degree weather? Not so much. So since I’m kind of addicted, I’ve devised a cooling Epsom salt bath that is the perfect antidote to a hot, stressy summer day. It’s a bath that incorporates, ta da, cucumbers! Along with fresh mint, and a hit of floral essential oil. Mmmmm. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint has a soothing and cooling effect on skin irritations caused by hives, poison ivy or poison oak; it reduces headache symptoms; and it can be used in the treatment of depression. (So if you’re hot, itchy, depressed and have a headache …)
To a tub of tepid water add 2 cups Epsom salt, stir in 1 sliced cucumber, a handful of torn peppermint leaves, and an optional 3 drops ylang ylang pure essential oil. Soak, be soft and happy.
2. Soothe puffy eyes
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. The high water content helps to hydrate tender skin in the eye region, while the chill of a refrigerated cucumber helps contract blood vessels in the area — both effects combine to reduce swelling. To use cucumbers as an eye treatment, grab a cold cucumber from the refrigerator and cut two thick slices. Find a comfortable place to relax and set the cucumbers over your closed eyes for about 10 to 15 minutes. I also like to grate the cucumber and just kind of pack it in.
3. Make a cucumber toner
This formula is inspired by one in the book "Ecobeauty: Scrubs, Rubs, Masks, and Bath Bombs for You and Your Friends". It is very mild and works well for all skin types. If you ever wake up feeling like your face is a little puffy, this toner is your best bet for calming and tightening your skin.
1/2 cucumber with peel, chopped
3 tablespoons witch hazel
2 tablespoons distilled water
Put all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove all of the solids, then pour the toner into a clean bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Store this toner in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life — it should last for several weeks. To use, apply the toner to your face using a clean cotton ball.
4. Make a cucumber avocado facial mask
The next two formulas are from the Cucumber Growers Association, and are simple yet sumptuous treats for your face.
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped avocado
1 egg white
2 teaspoons powdered milk
Blend all the ingredients together until they form a smooth, paste-like consistency. The mask can either be used immediately or left in the fridge for half an hour first. Massage 2 tbsp of the mask onto face and neck using circular upward motions. Relax for 30 minutes, or until the mask is dry. Rinse off with warm water, then follow with a cold water rinse. Pat dry.
5. Make a cucumber and yogurt mask
This one is good for combination skin:
1 tbsp plain/natural yogurt
Puree the cucumber in a blender. Mix in the yogurt. Apply all over face and neck. Relax for 15-20 minutes. Rinse off with warm water, then follow with a splash of cold water.
6. Make a cucumber anti-blemish face mask
From the book, "The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book" by Jo Fairley
1-inch chunk of cucumber
1 drop rosemary essential oil
1 egg white
Whizz the cucumber in a blender until it becomes completely liquid, then add the drop of rosemary essential oil. Whisk the egg white until stiff, fold in the cucumber mixture and smooth over the face avoiding the eyes and mouth area. Remove after 15 minutes using a clean, damp washcloth.
Chop 1 cucumber and puree in a blender with 4 tablespoons mint. Strain off the juice and store in the fridge. The tonic will keep for 24 hours in the fridge. To increase its life add 1 teaspoon vodka.
8. Mix cucumber with honey for a cucumber-honey toner
This recipe is from the National Honey Board:
1 medium cucumber, peeled and cut up into pieces
2 teaspoon honey
Puree cucumber in a blender. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and set the sieve over a glass bowl or measuring cup. Pour the cucumber puree through the sieve and let it stand for 15 minutes for the juices to drip into the bowl. Pour the clear juice into a clean bottle and add honey. To use, shake the bottle and saturate a cotton pad with the lotion. Sweep over face, neck and chest morning and night, and let it air dry (about 3 to 4 minutes). Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 1/2 cup.
9. Condition chlorine-damaged hair
This conditioner is said to work wonders on hair damaged by routine swimming in chlorinated water:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quarter of a peeled cucumber
Blend the egg, olive oil and peeled cucumber. Spread evenly through your hair, leave on for 10 minutes, then thoroughly rinse. For the best results year-round, continue this treatment monthly.
10. Make quick pickles
This recipe for quick crock pickles from "Serving Up the Harvest" (Storey, 2007) by Andrea Chesman, isn’t quick in terms of brining time (two days to six weeks) but the preparation time is speedy indeed. If you don’t have cucumbers, get creative — other vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots or zucchini will make just as wonderful pickles! After they have pickled, the vegetables can be stored for up to three months in the refrigerator, bringing a few flashes of summer greediness into the approaching cool weather. See recipe here.
11. Eat cucumber salads
You can add cucumbers to a tossed salad, but it’s even better to make a salad of cucumbers. I love to make chopped salads with a base of roughly chopped cucumbers mixed with whatever else I have that needs eating — leftover produce salads end up being some of the best because you end up with concoctions you may not have imagined otherwise — like cucumber, jicama and pear? Yum.
Cucumber Cashew Coleslaw
Dilled Cucumber and Sour Cream Salad
12. Make chilled soups
Because of their high water content, cucumbers make a great low-calorie and fresh-tasting base for chilled soups. The following four recipes are really great. (The Persian one includes walnuts and raisins …very exotic.)
Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup
Chilled Persian Cucumber Yogurt Soup
Chilled Cucumber Avocado Soup
Cucumber and White Grape Gazpacho
13. Try cucumber side dishes
I love the snappy crunch of cucumbers mixed with grains in side dishes, these two are favorites:
Summery Couscous with Cucumber and Mint
Dilled Rice and Lentils with Creamy Cucumber Salad
Do you have any favorite cucumber recipes or beauty formulas to share? I’m sure you do! Leave a comment below.
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