Figs: Delicacy And Ancient Medicinal Plant

The fig has a lot to offer in culinary terms – it can be prepared in many different ways and is a popular snack in between, both dried and raw. In addition, the fruit, which is rich in vital substances, is a popular home remedy for all kinds of ailments in many countries.

Fig – a versatile home remedy

Fresh figs are wonderfully juicy, taste pleasantly sweet and have a unique texture thanks to the crunchy pits inside. They are eaten raw or dried, made into jam and chutneys, or add a fruity aroma to salads or desserts. But figs are more than a delicious delicacy.

In traditional medicine in many countries, the fruit, bark, leaves, and milky sap from the stems of the fig tree are used to treat numerous ailments, such as constipation, as a natural remedy for warts, or to strengthen the heart. The diverse effects of figs are well known, especially in Arabic countries, in India, and around the Mediterranean.

Figs have been cultivated for 5000 years

The fig tree ( Ficus carica ) is already mentioned in the Bible: It is the only plant in the Garden of Eden that is mentioned by name. It is therefore symbolic of paradise. Its leaves served as clothing for Adam and Eve when they ate from the tree of knowledge and became aware of their nakedness.

Fig trees were planted as early as 3000 BC. Cultivated in Mesopotamia (now Iraq and Turkey) and is one of the oldest cultivated plants. From Mesopotamia, they are said to have reached Greece and the entire Mediterranean region. Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco are still among the largest fig producers today. Dried figs also mostly come from these countries, where they are still traditionally dried in the sun.

The figs were already considered a staple food by the ancient Romans – especially when dried, they are said to have been very popular in all social classes due to their long shelf life. And even today, the fig – whether fresh or dried – is an important part of the diet around the Mediterranean and in much of the world.

The nutritional values of the fig

With dried figs, it should be noted that their weight is only a fraction of the weight of a fresh fig due to dehydration during drying. A fresh fig weighs about 60 g, and a dried fig only 10 to 25 g. 100 g of dried figs therefore also contain much more sugar than 100 g of fresh figs – but of course also more protein, fat, and fiber.

The calories of the fig

Compared to other types of fruit, figs are about in the middle with regard to their calorie content of 63 kcal per 100 g. For comparison: Bananas are considered to be high in calories with 95 kcal per 100 g – watermelons, on the other hand, are low in calories with 38 kcal.

This is different for dried figs: 100 g contains 284 kcal. Compared to fresh fruit, this number sounds like a lot. Nevertheless, dried figs are significantly less important than unhealthy snacks: 100 g of milk chocolate contains around 535 kcal, and 100 g of snack salami is 500 kcal. Dried figs are therefore a healthy alternative to traditional snacks. Also, you generally never overeat dried figs, as most people experience a natural ban on eating some of the fruit, similar to pineapple.

The vitamins of figs

Figs contain almost the entire range of vitamins. The B vitamins are particularly abundant in dried figs.

The minerals of the fig

Dried figs in particular can cover a considerable part of the daily requirement for minerals. Of course, you don’t eat 100 g of dried figs every day, but a portion of e.g. B. 40 or 50 g can contribute significantly to covering the calcium and magnesium requirements.

The glycemic index and glycemic load of figs

The glycemic index of fresh figs is 35, and that of dried figs is 40. The difference is not big, which is mainly due to the fact that the glycemic index is not well suited to reflect the actual influence of the food on the blood sugar level. Because the glycemic index refers to 100 g of carbohydrates, i.e. not to 100 g of the respective food. We, therefore, recommend that you focus more on the glycemic load. This refers to 100 g of the food.

100 g of fresh figs have a low glycemic load of 4.5 (values ​​up to 10 are considered low). So they have little effect on blood sugar levels. Dried figs, on the other hand, have a high glycemic load of 27.6 (values ​​above 20 are considered high).

The fig in fructose intolerance

100 g fresh figs contain 5.5 g fructose and 7 g glucose – 100 g dried figs contain 24.8 g fructose and 31.5 g glucose. People who suffer from fructose intolerance usually do not tolerate fresh or dried figs during the abstinence phase. With regard to long-term nutrition, fresh figs are moderately well tolerated. So after the grace period, you could experiment with small batches of fresh figs and see how they work for you.

In any case, a good glucose-fructose ratio is advantageous. Because if a food contains more glucose than fructose, then this improves tolerability. In addition, figs are considered to be sorbitol-free, so this factor also speaks in favor of testing at least fresh figs, even if they have fructose intolerance. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that can increase the symptoms of fructose intolerance, which is why fruits that are low in fructose but contain a lot of sorbitol can also be intolerable, e.g. B. Apricots.

The fig is a traditional medicinal plant

In the traditional medicine of many countries, the fig is already known for its health effects. Gradually, these effects are now also being examined more closely by science.

Figs help with constipation

The fig has a slightly laxative effect – this is known from empirical medicine. Now it was examined in a study on 78 people for its effectiveness in constipation. The subjects took either 100 g of fig paste or a placebo three times a day before meals for eight weeks.

It was found that taking the fig paste shortened the time it took to defecate, improved stool consistency, and reduced abdominal symptoms (e.g. bloating and abdominal pain) in the test subjects. The researchers attributed the effect to the phytochemicals and fiber in fig.

The figs were only taken as a paste so that all subjects consumed the same amount of ingredients and the effect could thus be better compared. However, fresh and dried figs can achieve the same effect. It is not for nothing that figs are a proven home remedy for constipation.

The use of dried figs for constipation

As a home remedy for constipation, dried figs are used in the same way as prunes. Soak five dried figs in water overnight and eat them the next morning before breakfast. The soaking water should also be drunk. Alternatively, you can put the soaked figs in the blender together with the soaking water and drink it as a smoothie. For stubborn symptoms, repeat this daily for two to three weeks. You can find more home remedies for constipation under the previous link. Since constipation is often the cause of hemorrhoids, soaked figs can also be included in hemorrhoid therapy.

Figs are effective against high blood pressure

The fig is also used in traditional medicine as a strengthening agent for the heart and circulation. A study on rats suggests that this may be due to the fig’s blood pressure-lowering effects. The study, published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology in 2017, found a normalization of previously elevated blood pressure in the animals after three weeks of taking a fig extract.

The researchers attributed the effect of the fig extract on high blood pressure to the phytochemicals it contained. As described above, these are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating figs may therefore help to lower high blood pressure.

Figs lower cholesterol levels

Another risk factor for cardiovascular disease is high cholesterol. Another study in rats showed that when added to a high-fat diet for eight weeks, figs lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol while “good” HDL cholesterol increased. A high LDL value in particular is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The researchers also attributed this effect to the phytochemicals in the figs – especially the flavonoid rutin.

The milky sap of the fig helps with warts

Another traditional home remedy made from figs is milky juice. It is obtained from freshly harvested, still unripe figs and placed directly on warts. In a small study with 25 subjects, Iranian researchers checked whether this actually helps: The results make it clear that the milky juice of a fig achieves comparable results to treating warts with cold therapy. In 11 of the patients, the wart disappeared through the fig application – in 14 patients through the cold therapy. After 6 months, some of warts had come back, in the cold group in 20 percent of the subjects, in the fig group only in 8 percent.

The unripe figs were harvested by hand and a drop of the milky juice that exudes from the stalk of the fruit was applied to the wart. This was repeated for at least four days. Compared to cold therapy, which uses liquid nitrogen to “freeze” the wart, the treatment with fig milk juice does not hurt.

Of course, the fig application assumes that you have a fig tree at home. How to plant a fig tree is explained below in the text. Fig trees not only look decorative but can also produce delicious fruits in Central Europe – the effect of the milky sap on warts is a small plus point. Since the milky sap of the fig tree contains latex, it should not be used if you are allergic to latex. The milky juice should also be applied sparingly and only to the wart, as it can lead to skin rashes. Nevertheless, in the above study, side effects (pain, burning) were only seen with cold therapy, not with the use of milky juice.

Buying figs – you should pay attention to this

Fresh figs are generally available in supermarkets in central Europe all year round. From July to November they come from the Mediterranean region – the rest of the time they come from further away, for example from Brazil or the USA, which makes them taste a little less aromatic.

Figs should be bought ripe, as they will no longer ripen after harvest. You can recognize ripe figs with the help of the pressure test. If the skin gives way when you press it lightly, the fruit is ripe – but it shouldn’t be mushy.

Pesticides in Figs

Figs contain relatively few pesticide residues compared to other fruits. This was the result of an examination of conventionally grown figs, which was carried out in 2019 by the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office in Stuttgart. Out of eleven samples, four contained residues, one of which contained multiple residues. The maximum level was not exceeded.

In the “Exotic Fruits” category, the fig was one of the best types of fruit. For comparison: Of the 36 mangoes examined, 34 contained residues – four of which exceeded the maximum values.

Dried figs often sweetened

When buying dried figs, you should make sure that they do not contain any added sugar. In this case, the packaging often states “sugared”, but otherwise, the sugar is also listed in the ingredients. As you can see from the nutritional section, dried figs already contain a high level of fruit sugar, so there is no need for any additional sugar.

Grow your own figs

Fig trees prefer dry and warm climates. Thanks to hardy varieties, however, they also thrive in Central Europe – even in tubs. Hardy varieties are e.g. B. Madeleine des deux Saisons, Brown Turkey, Desert King, Negronne, Dalmatie or Ronde de Bordeaux. These varieties take frost well. Basically, however, fig trees need a location that is as sunny and warm as possible so that their fruits are aromatic and juicy. However, the trees should not be subjected to long-lasting very low minus temperatures.

Depending on the variety, figs can be harvested once or twice a year. Brown Turkey, for example, can be harvested in summer and fall. The fruit is ripe when the skin gives slightly when pressed. Ripe figs can also be easily snapped off the stem by hand. Fig trees are very easy to care for and also bring some Mediterranean flair to your garden or balcony.

Eat figs with or without the skin

Since the fig skin is rich in vital substances, it would be a shame not to eat it. Before eating, wash the fruit carefully and cut or twist off the stalk. If you don’t want to eat the skin, you can cut the fig in half and then spoon it out.

How to properly store figs

Figs taste best when eaten fresh. They also spoil quickly, which is why you shouldn’t keep them for too long. Figs keep for about two days without refrigeration – three to five days in the refrigerator, where they lose their aroma.

Freeze figs

Fresh figs can be frozen—but they often become mushy when thawed. But then they can still be wonderfully processed into jam or used for baking. Wash the figs thoroughly beforehand, cut them in halves or quarters, and place the pieces in a suitable freezer. Don’t freeze figs that are already mushy or bruised.

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