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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