I’ve had an afternoon of discovering all sorts of facts about figs, from reading online sources and my tome of a herbal compendium. Also after picking loads of them earlier today from a heavily-laden tree – a battle between me and the wasp population of Kefalonia!
According to Dr Mercola’s site, the fig has been around so long that remnants of the fruit have been found in Neolithic excavation sites dating back to c 5000 BC. It was thought to have first been cultivated in Egypt, then brought to Ancient Crete and then onto mainland Greece around 9th century BC. Here the fig was held in such esteem that laws prohibited the export of the best quality ones – much the same as in Ancient Rome, where it was also considered sacred; in fact the wolf that nurtured the twin founders of Rome – Romulus and Remus – is pictured resting beneath a fig tree. A random fact!
if you’re waiting to see a fig flower you’ll wait a long time and end up very frustrated. The tree doesn’t blossom as you’d expect since the flowers are on the inside, producing all those mini seeds you bite into when you eat them.
I’m not a fan of wasps, as many will know, but it’s a tiny wasp that pollinates the fig tree – hooray for some wasp benefits. However, it’s also the larger wasp variety that’s currently beating me to the fruit – and happy to sting for them!
There’s such a wide variety of fig fruit, from the purple-skinned/pink flesh ‘Black Mission’, to the ‘Brown Turkey’ (purple skinned/red flesh), to ‘Kadota’, Calymyrna’ and ‘Adriatic’ (green-skinned/beige-pink flesh) – and many more.
I’ve used the green Adriatic fig for my jam recipe that I recently pictured on instagram (and is the ‘mush’ photo above); this is also the type which is most commonly used to make fig bars.
Before they’re perfectly ripe, the fruit are sticky with ‘latex’ which can really irritate the skin, so if you’re picking them early, wear gloves.
As for their health benefits, apart from being high in fibre – definitely their global claim to fame – figs are a great source of minerals such as magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper and calcium; a large fig provides as much calcium as 1/2 cup milk.
Figs are also high in Vitamins K and B6, and are a high anti oxidant source [antioxidants fight so -called free radicals which our bodies have to deal with on a daily basis, both from natural metabolic processes producing 'rubbish', to external environmental sources adding to that toxic load].
The riper the fig, the more antioxidants they provide – and interestingly, all the nutrients mentioned above are potentiated when the fruit is dried.
What else? In some cultures, fig leaves are also on the menu; the leaves apparently have anti-diabetic properties and can reduce the amount of insulin needed by those requiring injections. Saying that, don’t randomly eat the leaves! A liquid extract was made from these leaves in a monitored lab study, and added to the breakfast of insulin-dependent diabetic subjects, resulting in these surprisingly beneficial facts. Perhaps a qualified herbalist will be able to tell us more – please do if you’re reading this!
Figs are used as poultices for wounds and warts, plus the fruit and leaves have been crushed and then gargled to relieve sore throats. Dried figs supposedly are heart protective, have inhibitive effects regarding some cancers esp. post menopausal breast cancer (according to the Mercola site), lower blood pressure and seem to have benefits re macular degeneration – more studies needed, however, on that last one as I’ve found no research results other than the obvious antioxidant benefits.
So, overall, figs are a fab fruit.
Make the most of them whilst they’re in season
I add them to my no-grain granola – the recipe for that can be found on a past recipe page here – and it was easy to make a compote or jam. You can also roast them with a drizzle of honey or add to a rocket salad or make an Ottolenghi-type tart with fetta…or just buy one and enjoy it as is. The possibilities are endless and delicious!