What is Elaterium?

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  • Written By: N. Phipps
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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The juice of squirting cucumber, Eballium elaterium, can be used as a medicinal extract. Also known as the exploding cucumber, this unsightly, bristly haired fruit is considered to be somewhat poisonous. Once mature, the fruit expels its seeds with considerable force. In fact, the unusual member of the cucumber family can squirt its slimy, mucus-like liquid at least 20 feet (6.1 meters). Anyone within the area can expect to receive quite a stinging sensation upon contact with this noxious substance.

Although the squirting cucumber has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries, it is seldom used as an herbal remedy today. Nonetheless, it is still cultivated in some areas for the elaterium extract. Indigenous to the Mediterranean region of Europe, the squirting cucumber can be grown in poor soils and harvested in summer just prior to the ripening of its fruits.

The fruits are usually left in containers until their contents are expelled. The juice is then dried for later use. Elaterium can also be obtained through sedimentation of its pulpy juice. The fruit is generally sliced lengthwise in half. It is then pressed slightly to obtain the greenish-colored juice. This juice is strained and set aside until it is ready for medicinal purposes.


While elaterium is extracted in a soluble state, once the juice is exposed to air, it quickly becomes insoluble. The bitter-tasting product, as an extract or tincture, can be used to treat a number of ailments. Of the more commonly used remedies the plant is known for is the treatment of inflammation. In fact, it was once extensively used to treat chronic inflammation of the bladder.

Elaterium was most often given as a purgative, as the remedy causes the evacuation of the bowels. Containing an analgesic property, the remedy was also once used for the treatment of pain. In fact, some areas still use the extract as treatment for sinus pain and congestion. Other treatments include that for relieving pain and inflammation associated with sprains.

As the extract is known to be one of the most active purgatives, only the smallest of doses was recommended. However, even in its lowest medicinal dose, elaterium produces profuse watery evacuations or diarrhea. In addition, those taking in the remedy can expect extreme nausea and vomiting. In large quantities, the plant extract can depress the circulatory and nervous systems, which can ultimately lead to death.

While the squirting cucumber may hold some fascination as an unusual plant, due to its toxic nature, it may be wise to leave it at that.


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