Fig. Ficus. Ficus carica.
Fig. Ficus. N. F. IV (U. S. P. VIII). Caricae. Ficus Passa, Fici, Fructus Caricae. Figue, Fr. Cod. Feigen, G. Fichi, It. Higos, Sp.—"The partially dried fruit of Ficus Carica Linne (Fam. Moraceae)." N. F. "The dried fleshy receptacles of Ficus Carica, Linn." Br., 1898.
The genus Ficus yields a number of economic products. Many species possess a milky juice containing caoutchouc, as F. elastica Roxb., of Sumatra, etc. Some of the juices are employed externally as well as internally, as that of F. indica L.. Some possess anthelmintic properties, as F. anthelmintica Mart.. Some yield gum lac or shellac as a result of the puncture of an insect, as F. religiosa L., F. laccifera Roxb.;and some are esteemed for their fruits, as F. Carica L., F. religiosa L., etc.
Ficus Carica, or fig tree, though often not more than twelve feet high, sometimes rises in warm climates twenty-five or even thirty feet. Its trunk, which, seldom exceeds seven inches in diameter, is divided into numerous spreading branches, covered with a brown or ash-colored bark. Its large, palmate leaves, usually divided into five obtuse lobes, are deep green and shining above, pale green and downy beneath, and stand alternately on strong, round foot-stalks. The flowers are situated within a common receptacle, placed upon a short peduncle in the axils of the upper leaves. This receptacle, the walls of which become thick and fleshy, constitutes what is commonly called the fruit; though this term is, strictly speaking, applicable to the small seed-like bodies found in great numbers on the internal surface of the receptacle, to which they are attached by fleshy pedicles. Cultivation has produced in the fig, as in the apple and peach, a great diversity in shape, size, color, and taste. It is usually, however, turbinate, or top-shaped, umbilicate at the large extremity, of the size of a small pear, of a whitish, yellowish, or reddish color, and of a mild, mucilaginous, saccharine taste. The dried figs can be partially restored to their original shape by soaking. The fig tree is supposed to have come originally from the Levant. It was introduced at a very early period into various parts of the south of Europe, and is now very common throughout the whole basin of the Mediterranean, particularly in Italy and France. Large numbers of Syrian fig trees were planted in the Pomona Valley, California, in 1890, and California figs are now commercial articles. To hasten the ripening of the fruit, it is customary to puncture it with a sharp pointed instrument covered with olive oil. Caprification consists in attaching branches of the wild fig tree to the cultivated plant. The fruit of the former contains great numbers of the eggs of insects of the genus Cynips, the larvae of which, as soon as they are hatched, spread themselves over the cultivated fruit, and, by conveying the pollen or the male organs over which they pass to the female florets, hasten the impregnation of the latter, and cause to quickly come to perfection the fig which might otherwise ripen very slowly, or wither and drop off before maturity. In California the great difficulty in cultivating figs was found to be to get a Cynips which would flourish in the climate. According to Landerer, the unripe fig contains an irritant juice, which inflames the skin, and may even disorganize it. (See A. J, P., xxxiii, 215.) The figs, when perfectly ripe, are dried by the heat of the sun, or in ovens. Those imported into this country come chiefly from Smyrna, packed in drums or boxes. They are more or less compressed, and are usually covered in cold weather with a whitish saccharine efflorescence, which softens in the middle of summer and renders them moist. The best are yellowish or brownish, somewhat translucent when held to the light, and filled with a sweet viscid pulp, in which are lodged numerous small yellow achenes. They are much more saccharine than is the fresh fruit. Their chief constituents are grape sugar, and gum or mucilage. An average of several analyses of dried figs as quoted by Konigs (Nahrungs und Genussmittel, 2te Aufl., Ed. i, 781) gives—water, 31.20; nitrogenous material, 4.01; sugar, 49.79; ash, 2.86. Reckoned on the weight of absolutely dry material, the nitrogenous matter amounted to 5.75 per cent. and the sugar to 72.26 per cent. They are officially described as "usually compressed, of irregular rounded shapes, from 2.5 to 5 cm. in diameter, fleshy, light brown to yellow, frequently with an efflorescence of sugar; summit with a small, scaly orifice; base with a scar or short stalk; internally hollow, with numerous small, brownish-yellow, glossy, and hard akenes. Odor distinctive, fruity; taste sweet, pleasant." N. F.
Figs are nutritious, laxative, and demulcent. In the fresh state they are considered, in the countries where they grow, a wholesome and agreeable ailment, and have been employed from time immemorial. They are prone, however, when eaten freely, to produce flatulence, pain in the bowels, and diarrhea. The latex of the fig has been used as an anthelmintic against intestinal parasites. Their chief medicinal use is as a laxative article of diet in constipation. They occasionally enter into demulcent decoctions, and, roasted or boiled, and split open, are sometimes applied as a cataplasm to inflamed gums.