Historical Cultivation And Usage

Due to its abundance within the Mediterranean and oriental regions, the squirting cucumber was harvested from the wild, and given little importance as a crop for cultivation. In fact, in many countries this plant was considered to be a weed. However, early last century (Grieve & Oswald, 1911) the plant was cultivated on a small scale, for the production of elaterium, at Hitchin and Amptil, and also formerly at Mitcham, in the United Kingdom. Due to the cold weather and lack of sunshine, the proliferative vigor of the plant and the quality of the dried fruit juice (elaterium) were inferior to the characteristics of the same plants growing within the Mediterranean region. In fact, most "elaterium of commerce" on the British market was imported from Malta (Sommier & Caruana Gatto, 1915), which was under British colonial rule at that time.

The squirting cucumber has been used as a remedy for many ailments. The uses of this plant are relatively ancient, and the method used for the preparation of the elaterium today is the same as that described in Greek times, particularly by Dioscorides (Fluckiger & Hanbury, 1879). In Arabic folk medicine (Dymock, 1972), Mahometan writers recorded the use of the elaterium as a laxative, and the juice as a treatment for otitis and as a remedy "to purge the brain." The Hindus used the fresh and dried fruit juice in a similar way. In Georgian popular medicine, the plant was used as a remedy for malarial fever (Dymock, 1972). In Turkish folk medicine, the elaterium has been used in treating jaundice and headache. The powdered elaterium (precipitate from the fruit juice) mixed with milk used to be applied in the nostrils to clear icterus and cure persistent headaches. It has also been used in the treatment of sinusitis. Ecballium elaterium was popular in Maltese folk medicine, as a cathartic and in the treatment of jaundice (Lanfranco, 1980). The elaterium can also be used to remove edema, which is the accumulation of excessive water in the body tissues. At high doses, the elaterium can cause vomiting; hence, it may have been used in the treatment of poisoning where induced vomiting was necessary.

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