“My neighbor has a fig tree,” Ann told me recently. “Do you want some when they’re ready to be picked?” My answer – of course! A few weeks later, Ann arrived at my front door offering a two-gallon plastic bag of these delectable morsels.
I only recently have discovered the joys of fresh figs. We never had them when I was growing up and my only taste previously had been the ubiquitous Fig Newtons and dried figs that I add to my granola recipe. So learning how to prepare fresh figs has become a new and wonderful culinary challenge. And it turns out that I’m in good company historically– early Olympic athletes ate them while training and a variety of kings had high regard for them. The fig also is prominent in religion – for instance, it is the most talked about fruit in The Bible and the tree’s leaves were used by Adam and Eve to cover themselves. Furthermore, the Prophet Mohammad has been quoted as saying, “If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise it would certainly be the fig.”
As you can tell, the fig has a long and storied history. The California Fig Advisory Board reports that the figs were probably first found in the fertile part of southern Arabia. Ancient Sumerians and Assyrians were some of the first to report that they included figs in their diet. Figs then spread through Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persian and the Arabian Desert, and reached China by the fourteenth century. The fruit also moved into the African coast, Spain, Portugal and the English Channel area around the same time. The New World started producing figs in the 1500s, thanks to Spanish and Portuguese missionaries. Figs were introduced to the United States’ southeastern area by people from Greece, France and the West Indies. California’s figs were introduced thanks to Franciscan missionaries who planted them in San Diego in 1769.
This fruit packs quote a health punch. Self’s NutritionData reported that a one-cup serving of dried figs provides 58 percent of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber, 24 percent of your daily calcium and 17 percent of your daily iron needs. The George Mageljan Foundation noted that figs also provide potassium, manganese and vitamin B6. However, be aware that that that one-cup serving of dried figs has 371 calories, a large portion of which come from sugars.
Researchers also have found some benefits to consuming figs, the George Mateljan Foundation stated. For instance, the potassium in figs can help control blood pressure. And because of their fiber, figs can be helpful in managing your weight. Another study found that fruit fiber helped to reduce the breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women by 34 percent. Figs also may promote bone health due to the amount of calcium in them. And eating figs and other types of fruit may lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
There are health benefits, as well, from consuming fig leaves. For instance, they have been found to have anti-diabetic properties and can reduce the amount of insulin needed by diabetics who have to have injections. The George Mateljan Foundation also pointed to studies that found that fig leaves lower levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream of animals and may inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells.