History and Mythology
Since antiquity, figs symbolised abundance, and they have been greatly valued, both for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Mithridates, the Greek king of Pontus (120-63 B.C.), heralded figs as an antidote for all ailments and instructed his physicians to consider its uses as a medicine. Pliny of Rome (62-113 A.D.) quoted "Figs are restorative. The best food that can be eaten by those who are brought low by long sickness and are on the way to recovery. They increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles".
The early Greeks so highly prized figs that it was considered an honor to bestow the foliage and fruit. In the original Olympic games, winning athletes were crowned with fig wreaths and given figs to eat in order to improve their strength and speed.
It is said that figs originated in South Arabia and were brought to Mediterranean over 2900BC.The Phoenicians and the Greeks, independently, and via different routes, were responsible for spreading fig culture throughout the Old World. There are several references in ancient Greek texts about figs and it is noted specifically that figs (either dried of fresh) were eaten as an appetizer or to accompany wine.
Some of the earliest Greek reportings of figs are in mythological literature. According to Greek mythology, the fig tree got its name from Sykeus (Syko [σύκο] in Greek means fig), the son of Gaia (Earth). In the war of the Titans, Sykeus was one of the giants who waged war on the gods and when he was pursued by Zeus, he hid with his mother, the Earth, and was transformed into the first fig tree.
Another Greek myth credits the goddess Demeter as introducing the "fruit of autumn" to humans. Figs were also sacred to Dionysus, the god of of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy.
The term "sycophant" has its origins in ancient Greece. In ancient Athens, in particular, figs were an important part of the diet for both rich and poor. Due to the fact that the Athenians were particularly fond of figs, they were nicknamed "sycophants", which originally meant fig-eaters. Later, when members of the same population informed authorities of illegally exporting figs from Attica, the word assumed its modern meaning!
There are numerous references of figs in literature and antic writings. They are mentioned in Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts and in Greek and Roman mythology.
In India, The Bengali fig tree is considered sacred and its fruits are widely used in Ayurveda for its healing qualities.
Figs have been characterized as one of the healthiest foods on the planet! Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes, or the real fruit. Figs are the only fruit to fully ripen and semi-dry on the tree.There are three types of figs: white, black, and red and the exterior color of the fruit varies from pale green, gold, brown to dark purple. The whole fig is edible and can be eaten fresh or dried. It should be noted that the skin of figs contains more fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidant activity than the pulp, with antioxidant capacity proportional to the content of anthocyanins. Darker fig varieties usually have a greater content of polyphenols than lighter-colored varieties.The fig leaves are also very beneficial and they are widely used for medicinal purposes. The milk of the figs and leaves are used in healing skin problems like wart. Here is a list of some of the most important nutritional values and health benefits of figs:
- Figs are a rich source of protein, soluble dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins (A, B, C, K) and pigment anti-oxidants that contribute immensely for optimum health and wellness.
- Soluble fiber helps control blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol by binding it in the digestive tract.
- Due to the fact that figs are one of the most fiber rich foods, they naturally fight constipation.
- Figs contain chlorogenic acid which helps in lowering blood sugar levels and controls blood-glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (Adult onset) condition.
- Figs contain good levels of B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine, folates, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins function as co-factors for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Figs are an excellent source minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and zinc (100 g of dried figs contain 640 mg of potassium, 162 mg of calcium, 2.03 mg of iron and 232 mg of potassium).
- Potassium found in figs is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
- Copper found in figs is required in the production of red blood cells.
- Iron found in figs is required for red blood cell formation as well for cellular oxidation. Thus, they are very beneficial for people suffering from anemia and are highly recommended to be consumed during pregnancy, when the need for iron (and calcium) is increased.
- Figs have been reported to fight cancer. They contain high amounts of coumarin and benzaldehyde, which according to scientific reports, are highly effective at shrinking tumors.
- Figs, which contain vitamins A and C, and calcium, magnesium and potassium, may also curtail appetite and improve weight-loss efforts.
- Figs contain a proteolytic enzyme, known as ficin, primarily contained in the stem of the fruit, helps to break down tissue and is very beneficial for digestive dissorders.
- Because of its high alkalinity, it has been mentioned as beneficial to persons wishing to quit smoking.
- Fresh figs have soothing effect on inflammation of the bronchial passages.
- Figs contain a high proportion of water and natural sugar so they are very beneficial for recovering from exhaustion. In addition, the sugar in figs stimulates the brain and enhances memory, which makes them a great choice for students.
- Figs are good for cleaning the skin and help with acne. Psoralens, a chemical that occurs naturally in figs has been used for thousands of years to treat skin pigmentation diseases and it is also a skin sensitizer that promotes tanning in the sun!
Since fresh figs are in season only for a very short time, you may enjoy them throughout the year dried or you may preserve them by making a delicious fig jam!