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Finocchio
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(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
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Figs








In the name of the Prophet 'Figs' was the pompous utterance
ascribed to Dr. Johnson, whose solemn magniloquent style was
simulated as Eastern cant applied to common business in Rejected
Addresses, by the clever humorists, Horace and James Smith,
1812. The tree which produces this fruit belongs to the history of
mankind. In Paradise Adam partook of figs, and covered his
nakedness with the leaves.

Though indigenous to Western Asia, Figs have been cultivated in
most countries from a remote period, and will ripen in England
during a warm summer if screened from north-east winds. The fig
tree flourishes best with [195] us on our sea coasts, bathed by the
English Channel, by reason of the salt-laden atmosphere. Near
Gosport, and at Fig Valleys, in the neighbourhood of Worthing,
there are orchards of figtrees; but they remain barren in this country
as far as affording seed to be raised anew from the ripened fruit. The
first figtrees introduced into England are still alive and productive
in the gardens of the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth, having
been planted there by Cardinal Pole in the time of Henry the Eighth.
We call the Sunday before Easter Fig Sunday, probably because
of our Saviour's quest of the fruit when going from Bethany the next
day.

By the Jews a want of blossom on the Fig tree was considered a
grievous calamity. On the Saturday preceding Palm Sunday (says
Miss Baker), the market at Northampton is abundantly supplied
with figs, and more of the fruit is purchased at this time than
throughout the rest of the year. Even charity children are regaled in
some parts with figs on the said Sunday; whilst in Lancashire fig
pies made of dried figs with sugar and treacle are eaten beforehand
in Lent.

In order to become fertilised, figs (of which the sexual apparatus lies
within the fruit) must have their outer skin perforated by certain
gnats of the Cynips tribe, which then penetrate to the interior whilst
carrying with them the fertilising pollen; but these gnats are not
found in this country. Producers of the fruit abroad bearing the said
fact in view tie some of the wild fruit when tenanted by the Culex
fly to the young cultivated figs.

Foreign figs are dried in the oven so as to destroy the larvae of the
Cynips insect, and are then compressed into small boxes. They
consist in this state almost exclusively of mucilage and sugar.

[196] Only one kind of Fig comes to ripeness with us in England,
the great blue Fig, as large as a Catherine pear. It should be
grown, says Gerard, under a hot wall, and eaten when newly
gathered, with bread, pepper, and salt; or it is excellent in tarts.
This fruit is soft, easily digested, and corrective of strumous
disease. Dried Turkey Figs, as imported, contain glucose (sugar),
starch, fat, pectose, gum, albumen, mineral matter, collulose, and
water. They are used by our druggists as an ingredient in confection
of senna for a gentle laxative effect. When split open, and applied
as hot as they can be borne against gumboils, and similar suppurative
gatherings, they afford ease, and promote maturation of the abscess;
and likewise they will help raw, unhealthy sores to heal. The first
poultice of Figs on record is that employed by King Hezekiah 260
years before Christ, at the instance of the prophet Isaiah, who
ordered to take a lump of Figs; and they took it, and laid it on the
boil, and the King recovered (2 Kings xx. 7).

The Fig is said to have been the first fruit, eaten as food by man.
Among the Greeks it formed part of the ordinary Spartan fare, and
the Athenians forbade exportation of the best Figs, which were
highly valued at table. Informers against those who offended in this
respect were called Suko phantai, or Fig discoverers--our
Sycophants.

Bacchus was thought to have acquired his vigour and corpulency
from eating Figs, such as the Romans gave to professed wrestlers
and champions for strength and good sustenance.

Dodonoeus said concerning Figs, Alimentum amplius quam coeteri
proebent; and Pliny spoke of them as the best restorative
for those brought low by languishing [197] disease, with loss of
their colour. It was under the Perpul tree (Ficus religiosa) Buddha
attained Nirvada.

The botanical name ficus has been derived from the Greek verb
phuo to generate, and the husbandry of Figs was called by the
Latins caprification. The little fig-bird of the Roman Campagna
pays a yearly visit in September to the fig orchards on our Sussex
coast.

When eaten raw, dried Figs prove somewhat aperient, and they are
apt to make the mouth sore whilst masticating them. Their seeds
operate mechanically against constipation, though sometimes
irritating the lining membrane of the stomach and bowels. Grocers
prepare from the pulp of these foreign dried figs, when mixed with
honey, a jam called figuine, which is wholesome, and will prevent
costiveness if eaten at breakfast with bread.

The pulp of Turkey Figs is mucilaginous, and has been long
esteemed as a pectoral emollient for coughs: also when stewed and,
added to ptisans, for catarrhal troubles of the air passages, and of
other mucous canals.

In its fresh green state the fruit secretes a mildly acrid juice, which
will destroy warts; this afterwards becomes saccharine and oily. The
dried Figs of the shops give no idea of the fresh fruit as enjoyed in
Italy at breakfast, which then seem indeed a fruit of paradise, and
which contain a considerable quantity of grape sugar. In the
Regimen of the School of Salerno (eleventh century) we read:--

Scrofa, tumor, glandes, ficus cataplasma sedet,
Swines' evil, swellings, kernels, a plaster of figs will heal.

Barley water boiled with dried Figs (split open), liquorice root, and
raisins, forms the compound decoction of barley prescribed by
doctors as a capital demulcent; [198] and an admirable gargle for
inflamed sore throat may be made by boiling two ounces of the Figs
in half-a-pint of water, which is to be strained when cool. Figs
cooked in milk make an excellent drink for costive persons.

In the French codex a favourite pectoral medicine is composed of
Figs, stoned dates, raisins, and jujubes.

Formerly the poisoned Fig was used in Spain as a secret means for
getting rid of an enemy. The fruit was so common there that to say
a fig for you! and I give you the fig became proverbial
expressions of contempt. In fiocchi (in gala costome), is an Italian
phrase which we now render as in full fig.

The Water Figwort, a common English plant which grows by the
sides of ditches, and belongs to the scrofula-curing order, has
acquired its name because supposed to heal sores in the fundament
when applied like figs as a poultice. It further bears the name of
Water Betony (page 50), under which title its curative
excellence against piles, and for scrofulous glands in the neck has
been already described. The whole plant, yielding its juice, may be
blended with lard to be used as an ointment; and an infusion of the
roots, made with boiling water, an ounce to a pint, may be taken as a
medicine--a wineglassful three times in the day.

In Ireland it is known as Rose noble, also as Kernelwort, because
the kernels, or tubers attached to the roots have been thought to
resemble scrofulous glands in the neck. Divers do rashly teach that
if it be hanged about the necke, or else carried about one it keepeth a
man in health. In France the sobriquet herbe du seige, given to
this plant, is said to have been derived from its famous use in
healing all sorts of wounds during the long siege of Rochelle under
Louis XIII.

[199] The Water Figwort may be readily known by the winged
corners of its stems, which, though hollow and succulent, are rigid
when dead, and prove very troublesome to anglers. The flowers are
much frequented by wasps: and the leaves are employed to correct
the taste of senna.





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