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Figs for Your Health
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Photo: Markellos P.
Figs originated in Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean region. The fig is mentioned more than fifty times in the Bible including a mention in the Garden of Eden. In Deuteronomy, figs were one of seven foods God promised the Hebrews upon entering the Promised Land. Figs were not brought to America until the early sixteenth century by the Spaniards.

Figs were important in ancient Greek culture. Dried figs were used as a sweetening agent. Greek athletes ate figs to improve their strength and endurance, while fig laurels were awarded to athletes who won at the Olympics.

The ancients viewed figs as having medicinal properties. They were used in ancient Egyptian medicine, internally for stomach problems and as a purgative, and externally for back pain and skin conditions. King Hezekiah in Old Testament times was told to apply a poultice of figs to his boils for healing. After boiling figs in barley water, the liquid was taken for the relief of coughs and chest pains. In China, fig leaves are used to provide relief from hemorrhoids. Today, the oil distilled from fig leaves is used to provide a woodland scent for perfumes.

Figs can be used fresh, dried or canned. They are used in bread, pastries, confectionery, fruit cakes, jams, and desserts. The most common varieties of figs are the golden-colored Calimyrna figs, and the dark, purplish Mission figs. Unlike most other fruits, figs ripen gradually and are picked from May through October.  As a soft fruit figs don’t store well or transport easily, and so they typically end up in a dried form.

Rich Source of Calcium

Figs are a rich source of calcium and iron, dietary fiber and a wide variety of health-promoting phytochemicals including lignans and tannins. Three to four figs provide about 20 percent of the daily need for fiber. The fiber in figs provides useful laxative properties. The low sodium, low fat and high potassium content of figs make them useful in diets to lower blood pressure.

Figs also contain a number of anti-tumor compounds including benzaldehyde, coumarins, and terpenoids. Regular doses of benzaldehyde to terminal cancer patients revealed significant regression in many patients. Figs also contain the flavonoid quercetin in high levels such as that found in apples and sweet cherries. Quercetin has strong antioxidant properties that protect us against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Figs may also protect against osteoporosis, due to their rich supply of boron.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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