By Hwaa Irfan
Figs are a sweet, succulent fruit that has been valued from time immemorial both when fresh, and as a dried fruit. High in dietary fiber, figs make a good contribution towards weight loss. It was valued for its ornamental leaves during the Roman times, and was a staple food for the ancient Greeks who forbade the best fruit from being exported.
The fig is an extremely unusual plant that is neither a fruit nor a flower. What we know as the fruit completely encloses the flower. The flower is considered to be invisible as inside the fig are tiny flowers which never see light, yet completes the process of a flower, producing seeds that ripen. There is an opening or ostiole i.e. an eye, which remains unconnected to the tree, but allows the fruit to develop by allowing communication with its external environment. This in itself is symbolic as the leaves of which were given to hide the shame they innately felt before being placed on earth.
Said Prophet Muhammed: “If I had to mention a fruit that descended from paradise I would say this is it, because the paradisiacal fruits do not have pits… eat from these fruits for they prevent hemorrhoids, piles and gout”(Al-Bukhari)
Known in English as figs, and teen in Arabic, the common fig is native to Persia, Asia Minor and Syria. As a member of the Urticaceae plant family, the fig tree can grow up to 12 ft. in warm, temperate climates, living to an old age. There are many varieties like the ficus sycamores, which grows into a large tree, and is common in Egypt and Syria. The variety in the U.S. were mainly imported from Europe (where it was introduced around the 16th century) from which cultivation in the U.S. took off The fig tree is harvested in July and August, with producing countries Spain, Malta, Greece, Southern France, and the top producing countries being Turkey, and then Egypt.
On the market “natural” figs are allowed to keep their natural shape, and are packed loosely. “Pulled” figs are for export in small boxes/drums, which is kneaded to make them supple. Bay leaves might be included to keep away insects. “Pressed” figs are closely packed.
Many properties have been identified, but the full effect still remains unknown.
- cysteine endopeptodase
- B-Setosterols (also present in the leaves
- Bergaptene (also present in the leaves)
- Stigmasterol (also present in the leaves)
- Oleic acid (seeds)
- Linoleic acid (seeds)
- Palmitic acid (seeds)
- Stearic acid (seeds)
- Arachidic acid (seeds)
- Pentosans (leaves)
- Carotene (trace) (leaves)
- Bergaptene (leaves)
- Tyrosine (leaves)
- Caoutchouc (tree sap)
- Albumin (tree sap)
- Cerin (tree sap)
- Malic acid (tree sap)
- Rennin (tree sap)
- Proteolytic enzymes (tree sap)
- Diatase (tree sap)
- Esterase (tree sap)
- Lipase (tree sap)
- Catalase (tree sap)
- Peroxidase (tree sap)
Psoralen has been identified as an active agent against tumors, bacteria and viruses. The phytochemical, cysteine endopeptodase has been isolated from the fruit to produce a protein ficin, a protein digestant. Ficin has also been used to tenderize meat. The triterpenoids and coumarins have been identified as having anticancerous activity. In Southern France, the bergaptene is extracted for the perfume industry as “fig leaf absolute” to produce a scent of the woodlands.
The therapeutic qualities include the following:
Figs have long been known for their mild laxative action as syrup of figs, and as such, one can phytochemical properties of figs included in along with senna in medicine, particularly syrups. In the British pharmacopoeia syrup of figs is recommended as a good laxative for children. As a demulcent, decoctions are made for the easing of catarrhal infections of the nose and throat. The potassium content helps to control blood pressure, which is beneficial to those who have a high salt diet, and/or a diet high in processed foods. In countries where fig leaves are a part of the diet, the leaves reduce insulin, which is handy for diabetics on insulin. The triglycerides lowers the amount of fat circulating in the blood.
In folk medicine, the milk-like sap from a freshly broken stalk will remove warts, and the leaves have been made into a decoction for the relief of diabetes, and calcification of the kidneys and liver.
The ficus carica is prevalent in India where it is used in traditional medicine. The roots of the fig tree have been used to treat ringworms and leucoderma, whilst the fruits have been used for inflammations, and cases of paralysis. In ayurvedic medicine, it is known that eating the fruit cleans the mouth, and removed foul tastes from the mouth. It is considered a natural tonic to the body, strengthening the vitality of the body, and is used to rejuvenate the mother who has just given birth after a case of hard labor.
In Chinese medicine, the leaves .are used to cure hemorrhoids, for hypertension, and as an anticancerous agent while bergaptene is has been used to cure vitiligo, psoriasis, and alopecia.
- ManganeseBeta Tocopherol
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
- Pantothenic acid
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Omega-6 fatty acids
It is preferable to buy figs fresh, a couple of days at the most before eating as fresh figs are higher in antioxidants (prevents cell degeneration). The smell of a fruit is always a good give away as to its freshness, and with figs there should be a gentle sweet fragrance. Once bought, they should not be kept in the refrigerator for more than two days in a manner that will prevent them from bruising, and covered to prevent them from drying. With dried figs, they can be kept for several months in a dark cool place. They require a lot of chewing which is the beginning of the digestive process, and from which one is more able to benefit from the nutrients present. Unfortunately, the commercialized processing of dried figs might mean they have been treated with sulphites as a preservative to lengthen their shelf life in the store. This presents a problem for asthmatics especially. Foods classified as organic will be sulphur free.
It get the best out of figs nutritional speaking they should be eaten with the skin, which means coming across a soft pulpy, chewy, and crunchy (seeds) textures all at the same time. However, IN SOME Western countries the skin is peeled. Dried figs can be simmered in water for a few minutes to make them juicier or added to the morning cereal/porridge or added to yoghurt or a cold dessert. Fig jam is quite popular, and that can be made by using plump fresh figs.
– ½ lb sugar
– ½ pint of water per pound of fruit
… that makes the syrup, and then just add the figs, bring to the boil until thick. Add a stick of cinnamon before it boils to extract the preservatives, and remove after boiling!
For other purposes, the fresh fig can be roasted using the flesh as an emollient in the form of a poultice to dental abscesses, they were used in the Bible that way. The tree sap was used in South America traditionally to do the washing up, and until recently was an ingredient in commercial detergents.
The milk-like sap from a freshly broken stalk will remove warts – some methods use the sap produced before the fruit is ripe. On application, the area around the wart will become inflamed, which is the beginning of the process of shriveling and falling off.
For coughs, asthma and bronchitis, a pound of figs cut, addded to a quart of water, then brought to the boil, then allowed to simmer. Afterwards, place the content in a muslin cloth, and squeeze out the juice, then add to the juice 2 lemons.
In balance He gave us everything we needed, but as for what we want!
“Fig, Common”. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/figcom12.html
Felter, H. W. King’s American Dispensatory, U.S.1898.
Kadamus, J. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Herbs“. Parker Publ, U.K. 1983.
Kalaskar, M.G. et la. “Pharmacognostic and Phytochemical Investigation of Ficus Carica”. http://www.ethnoleaflets.com/leaflets/ficus.htm
Morton, J. “Figs”. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/fig.html
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