Ficus (U. S. P.)—Fig.
"The fleshy receptacle of Ficus Carica," Linné, "bearing fruit upon its inner surface"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAMES AND SYNONYMS: Fici, Figs; Fructus caricae, Ficus passa, Caricae.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 228.
Botanical Source.—The fig tree is usually about 10 or 12 feet in height, but in warm latitudes exceeds this by 8 or 12 feet additional. The trunk is crooked, usually about ½ foot in diameter, with a grayish or grayish-brown bark, and round, green, or russet branches, covered with a coarse, short down. The leaves are alternate, large, rough on the upper side, coarsely downy beneath, cordate, 3 or 5-lobed, or almost entire, coarsely serrated, and petioled. The flowers are green, placed upon the inside of a turbinate, fleshy, closed receptacle, in the axils of the top leaves; male flowers, near the umbilicus, stamens 3, calyx 3-lobed; female flowers, calyx 5-lobed, ovary 1. The receptacle or fruit is solitary, axillary, more or less pear-shaped or almost round, succulent, sweet and pleasant to the taste. The seeds are small and numerous (L.—Wo.).
History and Chemical Composition.—The fig tree is believed to be a native of Persia and Asia Minor, but at present is raised in all mild latitudes. The structure of its fruit is peculiar; at first it is nothing more than a fleshy receptacle, but, as it advances to maturity, minute flowers form in a cavity which occupies the center of the mass and communicates outwardly by a small round aperture at the summit, and these flowers are succeeded by many small roundish seeds. While young, the fig abounds, like the trunk and branches, with a milky, aromatic, acrid juice, destitute of sweetness; but as it matures, sugar and mucilage are formed, and the acridity disappears. Its shape is generally turbinate or pear-shaped, of the size of an apricot, of various colors, some being whitish, others reddish or yellow, with a small pit or depression at the larger end, and of an agreeable, sweet, mucilaginous taste, and, when ripe, is sweet, high-flavored, and wholesome, but if eaten to excess, occasions flatus, intestinal pains, and looseness of the bowels. Figs are generally dried in the sun, sometimes in ovens, and are packed in baskets or drums. If left until perfectly ripe they dry on the trees, and are gathered as dried figs. The Smyrna figs are best. They are more or less flattened by pressure and are covered with saccharine granules, which, in summer, contain numerous minute insects, are of a yellowish or brownish color, and rather translucent. The Smyrna or Turkey figs are pulpy and large, while a smaller, dried variety is known as Greek figs. Figs that retain their natural form somewhat, not having been compressed in packing, are known as natural figs, while another commercial variety is known as pulled figs, on account of having been rendered supple by kneading. They contain sugar of figs, 62.5; fatty matter, 0.9; extractive with chloride of calcium, 0.4; gum with phosphoric acid, 5.2; woody fiber, seeds, and water, 1.60 (P). Starch is abundant in the unripe fig. The milky juice of the common fig tree (Ficus Carica) contains a digestive ferment (see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1880, p. 628, and 1887, p. 150).
Description.—Figs are officially described as follows: "Compressed, of irregular shape, fleshy, brownish, or yellowish, covered with an efflorescence of sugar; of a sweet, fruity odor, and a very sweet, mucilaginous taste. When softened in water, figs are pear-shaped, with a scar or short stalk at the base, and a small, scaly orifice at the apex; hollow internally; the inner surface covered with numerous yellowish, hard achenes"—(U. S. P.).
Action and Medical Uses.—Figs are nutritive, emollient, demulcent, and aperient, and are used in costive habits, and to flavor gruels, decoctions, etc. Roasted or boiled, they may be applied as a suppurative poultice to gum-boils, buboes, carbuncles, etc. A poultice of dried figs and milk will remove the stench of cancerous and fetid ulcers (Billroth).
Related Species.—Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, Linné, (Nat. Ord. Ficoideae); Diamond fig, Ice plant. Europe. This plant has round-ovate leaves, and whitish or reddish blossoms. The plant is covered with vesicles, which glisten in the light, and is odorless and saline to the taste. Its juices contain salts, chiefly sodium and potassium compounds, oxalates being especially prominent. It has been used in Europe for various cystic disorders, chiefly enuresis and dysuria, dropsy, and as a demulcent in pulmonic complaints. Dose of expressed juice, ʒiv in a day. In South Europe it is gathered to furnish alkali for glass works (Hogg).
Mesembryanthemum edule, Hottentot's fig.—Sandy plain of Cape of Good Hope. Fruit edible and leaves used as pickles. Juice reputed useful externally in burns and internally in thrush and dysentery (Hogg).
Mesembryanthemum tripolium, Rose of Jericho, Flower of Crete.—The natives of South Africa administer the water in which the fruit has lain to women to facilitate easy delivery in labor (Hogg).