How the fig tree conquered the world

The common cultivated fig originated in western Asia. It is one of the most ancient fruit crops, with evidence of cultivation and use at various Neolithic, late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in the Mediterranean basin. Most of the world’s production still occurs in and arounfQhe Mediterranean basin, the major producers being Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece have historically been important European producers. Figs are also grown in an area stretching eastwards from the Balkans and Turkey into Iran and India. Figs are grown in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries, where the ability to tolerate low rainfall and drought conditions makes the tree a valuable asset. Spanish missionaries were responsible for introducing the common edible fig into California, and figs are now grown in the southern, drier areas of the USA. In the southern hemisphere, Argentina and Australia have limited production.
The fig has a history that includes religious associations. It is cited in the Bible (Genesis 3:7), when the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, cover themselves with fig leaves. The fig is one of the two sacred trees of Islam. Fig trees also have a pivotal presence in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Siddhartha Gautama, the Supreme Buddha, is traditionally held to have found bodhi (enlightenment) while meditating under a sacred fig (Ficus rcligiosa).
The number of species (about 750) and the range of plant habit in the genus Ficus is large .

Whereas the common is a deciduous temperate tree, many other species are subtropical and tropical evergreen plants, ranging in size and form from large trees, sometimes with aerial roots, to small trees, shrubs and climbers. Ficus clastica (the rubber tree) and the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) are used as houseplants in temperate regions. The creeping fig (Ficus pumila) is a vine whose small, hard leaves form a dense carpet of foliage over rocks or garden walls. Despite the Ficus genera having a broad range of plants there are several distinguishing botanical features. In particular, Ficus species plants have a white to yellowish sap (latex). Tissue wounding normally leads to the exudation of the latex, sometimes a copious exudate.
Many Ficus genera plants are gynodioccious (have two sexual forms). The plants may have two flower-bearing structures – one is termed the capri-fig and has staminate (male) flowers and short-styled pistillate (female) flowers; the other, the fig, only bears long-styled pistillate flowers. The structure typically recognized as the fig ‘fruit’ is a specially adapted type of inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers). This structure is botanically termed a syconium. On examination, the structure is found to be an involuted and nearly closed flower receptacle, with many small flowers arranged on the inner surface of the ‘fruit’.

Fig combinations with other foods for health and healing

Figs are harvested during March and May—and arc rich in high class amino-acids like: Tyrosin, Lipase, Protease, Protose, Cravin, Lysin, and Grape-sugar. Therefore, eating figs with milk is one of the best means of proteins in vegetarians, and in the prevention of protein deficiency diseases.
Eating figs with honey is a very valuable natural medicine for the treatment of bleeding from the lungs due to pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic cough, asthma, bleeding piles, constipation, rectal fissures, cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, portal obstruction, slow healing of the ulcers, fractured bones etc.


Figs contain a digestive enzyme in the sap, hence, semi-ripe figs can be used as a digestive tonic in all kinds of dyspepsias, heart burn, etc. There is a high concentration of potassium in the figs, hence figs can be used in the treatment of urinary diseases with scanty urination, stones in the bladder, and the kidneys, strangury, phosphaturia and metabolic disorders of carbohydrates such as ketosis and acidosis. (diabetics should use figs with caution). Figs can also be used as an energy-food in cardio-vascular disorders under the care of a physician.
In the treatment of nervous vaginismus in young girls; giving figs with butter-milk daily thrice for a month relaxes the vaginal muscles and stops the spasm. This is tested in many cases and found effective. Chewing figs regularly, not only hardens the gums but also stops bad breath and keeps the teeth healthy and strong.
An ounce decoction of ripe figs given three to four times a day during infancy and childhood, supplies ail the necessary calcium, iron, phosphorus, proteins and other minerals to effect healthy and strong growth. It prevents the convulsions by avoiding constipation in the babies. Those who eat figs regularly during pregnancy do not suffer from prolonged labour and weakness after child-birth.


For the proper treatment of gross potassium deficiency an experienced physician or a surgeon is required, however, in simple cases, drinking plenty of tender coconut water or taking Pot-citras, 20-30 grs., t.d.s., (three times daily), cures it. It is advised to take plenty of figs, apricots, prunes, almonds, tomatoes etc., during the use of oral diuretics. Potassium-rich foods should be restricted during acute renal failure, Addison’s disease etc.

(From the book “Herbal Foods and Its Medicinal Values” By H. Panda)

Eating figs for beauty

Recognized by the Muslims as being the most intelligent of all trees, fig trees produce one of the most nutritious fruits in the world. Some tropical primates live on a diet of more than 80% figs. In the tropics we find more than six hundred fig varieties. More than a hundred and fifty other varieties grow in Mediterranean climates the world over.
The Roman historian Aeliant tells us that in the first age of humankind the “Athenians lived on figs…” (Aeliant Hist. Var., L. 8, ch. 89).

Jesse_in_Las_Vegas_4_by_dukephotoFigs are a densely mineralized sweet fruit. They contain one of the highest concentrations of calcium of any food.
Whether they are fresh or naturally dried, figs are a great laxative. The tiny seeds in figs are not only packet! with nutrients, but they help draw out and dissolve waste, parasites, and mucus in the intestines. Figs are one of Professor Arnold Fhret’s top three mucus-dissolving foods (as referenced in The Mucusless Diet Healing System).
Dried figs are probably the healthiest choice of all dried fruits. They are the most alkaline of dried fruits and probably the most mineral-rich as well.


— How to Eat Figs —

Fresh figs should be soil and as tree-ripened as possible. If many figs are eaten unripe, they can burn the mouth and lips. Figs are a wonderful treat bv themselves and also mix well with other foods due to their high alkaline-mineral content.
Dried figs may be eaten by themselves; however, I typically liko to blend them in smoothies in order to add incredible zest and flavor. 1 also cut them up and mix them with salads.

‘…champions were in times past fed with figs.”
—Pliny, Roman naturalist


(Excerpts from the book “Eating for Beauty” by David Wolfe)

Jesus, fig trees and checking your car brakes

“Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”

Immediately the tree withered.”     – Matthew 21:18-22

Israel_Bethany_Stone_church_with_silver_domeThe excerpt is well known, the explanation less so.   Most religious researchers believe that Jesus was crucified probably on the 6th of April, 30 A.D.  Which means that when he met the above mentioned fig tree it was not meant to be in fruit anyway as it was long before summer.  However fig trees at that time produce taqsh, small hard, almond sized knobs on the plant which poor peasants were often forced to eat for lack of anything better.   If the tree has no such fig precursors it means that it will not bear fruit this season.  Jesus was not cursing the fig tree but simply announcing what any person who lived in those times would know.  After a long day walking, Jesus perhaps hoped to have a small snack, was disappointed, and thus pronounced the tree barren.

Google searches for “fig tree” are also, as expected seasonal.  From March through until September people are more interested in it either because they want to plant a fig tree, or take care of a fig tree.  A modern day Jesus could see the following pattern of seasonality in Google searches:

figly datachart seasonality of google searches for fig tree c 2015 figly

That green line is the amount of searches (U.S.) for “fig tree”.  Every year they spike from March to September.  But what is that blue line which follows them so closely?  It is the google searches for “brake caliper”!    In fact the correlation is extremely high at r=0.9069.  Similar in seasonality, yet not so exact in volume are searches for “paint code”, “oil filter”, “valve adjustment”, “oil drain” and “gear oil”.  It seems that as Americans come out of winter they have two things in mind:  fixing their car and tending to their fig trees!

Here is the full excerpt from the book “Hard Sayings of the Bible”, (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch)

“The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called “The Barren Fig Tree” published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). “Now,” wrote Christie, “the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner.  They grow to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry.

When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off.” These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh in
Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later.

So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh, that is a sign that
there will be no figs. Since Jesus found “nothing but leaves”—leaves without any taqsh—he knew that “it was an ab-
solutely hopeless, fruidess fig tree” and said as much. But if that is the true explanation of his words, why should anyone trouble to record the incident as though it had some special significance? Because it did have some special significance. As recorded by Mark, it is an acted parable with the same lesson as the spoken parable of the fruitess fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.

In that spoken parable a landowner came three years in succession expecting fruit from a fig tree on his property, and when year by year it proved to be fruidess, he told the man in charge of his vineyard to cut it down because it was using up the ground to no good purpose. In both the acted parable and the spoken parable it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fig tree represents the city of Jerusalem, unresponsive to Jesus as he came to it with the message of God, and thereby incurring destruction. Elsewhere Luke records how Jesus wept over the city’s blindness to its true well-being and foretold its ruin “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44 RSV). It is because the incident of the cursing of the fig tree was seen to convey the same lesson that Mark, followed by Matthew, recorded it.”


Fig and Olive, Fig Charleston, the girl and the fig

Why do so many popular restaurants use the name “fig”?  From the Fig & Olive website we read:

“FIG & OLIVE is about passion for the best olive oils, flavors and cuisine from the Riviera& Coastal regions of the South of France, Italy and Spain. Our large variety of extra virgin olive oils was selected to be paired with each dish and to be offered for tasting at the beginning of each meal.”

Multiple locations, NYC, Melrose place, uptown, fith avenue…clearly figs are the way to go!

That is if you don’t go to “the girl & the fig” instead!   Just make sure you don’t confuse them with “Food if Good” = FIG which is

Why do figs split open?

It seems peculiar.  Why should the fig plant not protect its fruit until the seeds can fall to the ground?  Is splitting open some unusual way of enticing animals to eat the fruit?

Slight splitting shouldn’t put you off eating a fig.  It is actually quite normal and caused by humidity.  Well drained land usually reduces fig splitting bug careful watering can also do the trick.  If the plant gets too much water as it nears the fruiting period,   The fig fruit is an extension of the tree’s stem tissue.  So if it rains, or – more often – at night when evaporation is reduced, the weak structure of the fig fruit just can’t take anymore!  It splits open and you wake up to disappointment!

Have no fear though.  Unless you are infested with insects, freshly split figs are usually extremely tasty and just ripe enough to eat.  So called “heavy” soils can also help reduce fig splitting since they tend to keep a relatively constant level of humidity.  However most fig trees enjoy climates with 7 or more hours of constant sunlight, so it is never easy!  Especially in the morning and the evening, sunlight and heat help get rid of dampness which would otherwise assist insects which damage the tree.

Some fig farmers claim that figs split because of rain hitting the trees.  They even try to cover the fig trees with umbrellas or other systems.  Others claim that particular angles of the branches with figs will keep them from splitting when it rains.  It seems unlikely that it is actually the velocity of the rain drops which would cause figs to split; if this was the case, splitting would occur when we wash them under a tap too.  After all that is much more water!

Figs in containers have been observed to grow too fast when they receive a lot of water, thus causing splitting in the rest of the plant which doesn’t grow as quickly.

Do figs ripen after they are picked off the tree?

No, figs don’t ripen after being picked.  So you need to read carefully.  If you are picking the figs yourself make sure they aren’t too hard and that they are easy to remove.  Just lift them gently and they should begin to become unattached or feel ready to leave the tree.

Unripe figs don’t taste anything like ripe figs.  Not sweet and of course as we explained in a previous article much more likely to cause allergies.  Personally I don’t like them over ripe, a bit like bananas.  Some people like them the way they get sweeter when they get sugary ripe.  I love them straight off the tree and eaten whole!

Why do figs hurt my tongue?

Some people also report having sore gums or their mouth going numb.  This problem is cause primarily from unripe figs, often the case when they are picked too soon and – watch out – figs don’t ripen when stored.  Try cutting an unripe fig and you will see a milk like liquid.  This contains a proteolytic enzyme called ficin.

So aim for ripe figs and you should be OK every time.  Unless you get greedy and eat too many!  Ficin diminishes as the fruit ripens, it is there to protect the fruit from animals eating it too soon.

Another way to make sure you aren’t getting ficin is to cut the figs in half and eat just the red part, avoiding the skin and white parts.  But bear in mind that ficin contributes to the fig’s laxative properties, so you might be defeating your primary purpose of eating them!

The Greeks had a name for it

Syko – is fig in Greek and it was the same in Ancient Greece.   philo-sykos means “friend of the fig” and many famous ancient Greeks professed to this love, including Plato and of course Solon who banned the export of figs as he considered them way too useful for the inhabitants of Attica.  Another Greek king, Mithridates ordered that all citizens of Pontus were he ruled should consume them daily as a cure for all sorts of things.

Greeks loved figs so much that they wore them around their necks in purification ceremonies.  (White figs for women, black ones for men.)  Figs were considered particularly honourable fruit, given to mortals from the godess Demeter and even used as laurels in the first Olympics, they were food for athletes, travellers and of course symposiums as they were considered good food for thinkers as well.