Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Fig (Ficus Carica, said to derive its name from the Hebrew Peg and the district of Caria) is a deciduous tree, not exceeding 20 or 30 feet in height, belonging to the mulberry family. It has an acrid milky juice, rich in caoutchouc, and containing a peptic ferment, so that meat wrapped in its leaves is rendered tender. Its leaves are scattered, three to five-lobed, and rough, and its minute flowers are monoecious and form a hollow capitulum, top-shaped or pear-shaped, and almost closed above. This is axillary and bears male flowers chiefly near the upper end of the cavity. The common receptacle ripens like a true fruit, its chlorophyll changing colour and much sugar being formed, whilst the. numerous small round fruits or "seeds," each really containing a seed, become imbedded in the pulpy interior. These changes seem independent of fertilisation; but if not fertilised the figs are said to drop off, and from early times in the AEgean it has been the custom to place boughs of the wild fig or caprifig over the cultivated trees in order that certain hymenopterous insects of the genera Blastophaga and Sgcophaga may crawl into the receptacles of the cultivated plants. It is disputed whether or not this process of caprification, as it is termed, has any efficacy, and whether the insects carry the pollen and so secure fertilisation or hasten maturation by puncturing the receptacle. The fig seems to be a native of Syria, but spread in prehistoric times into Persia, Greece, Northern Africa, and France. It is frequently mentioned in the Bible. Attic figs became so celebrated that laws were passed prohibiting their exportation, to which we owe the word "sycophant," for a base informer. Romulus and Remus were said to have been suckled under a fig-tree; Bacchus was crowned with its leaves; and Cato stirred up the Romans to undertake' the third Punic War by exhibiting a fresh fig from Carthage, their too-near rival city. Introduced into England, probably in 1548, by Cardinal Pole (trees planted by him are still living at Lambeth), the fig is cultivated near Worthing and elsewhere in the south of England, but suffers much from frost. Some 160,000 cwt. of the dried fruits, valued at £250,000, are imported annually, chiefly from Smyrna and Portugal. They are dried in the sun, the best kind, known as Elemi, being "pulled" out flat during the process. Containing 57-5 per cent. of glucose or grape-sugar, which forms a white powder on the surface, and 6 per cent. of albumen, figs form a principal article of food in the Levant. Medicinally figs act as a gentle laxative and enter. into the confection of senna, whilst from the time of Hezekiah one of the "fruits" cut open has' formed a popular cataplasm for boils and sores. The spongy wood of the tree is in France saturated with oil and emery and used as a hone.