The Fig tree is believed to be indigenous to Western Asia and to have been distributed by man throughout the Mediterranean area. It has been cultivated for thousands of years, remnants of Figs having been found in excavations of Neolithic sites traced back to at least 5,000 B.C. European types were eventually taken to China, Japan, India, South Africa, Australia, and North and South America. Some members of the Fig family are ornamental plants and some produce rubber. Over 700 varieties of fig are in existence.
The fruit (usually pear-shaped and up to 5cm in diameter) is actually a swollen flower stalk; female flowers are borne on the inside of a fleshy structure called a receptacle, which expands greatly as the fruit matures. The 'fruit' is technically a synconium (a fleshy, hollow receptacle with a small opening at the apex partly closed by small scales). It is an inverted inflorescence with swollen receptacle. The true fruits line the inner surface of the synconium and are known as druplets. In some varieties, a female Fig wasp crawls through the ostiole (a small hole at the end of the Fig) to pollinate the flowers. Some varieties can bear fruit without pollination.
Fermentation of the fruit can occur if too much rain during maturation (it seeps inside fruit).
The tree grows among rocks and in woods and scrub, or in cultivated groves. In warm, humid climates, Figs are generally eaten fresh and raw without peeling. Peeled or unpeeled, the fruits may be merely stewed or cooked in various ways, as in pies, puddings, cakes, bread or other bakery products, or added to ice cream mix. The fruits are preserved in sugar syrup or prepared as jam, marmalade, or paste. In Europe, western Asia, northern Africa and California, commercial canning and drying of Figs are industries of great importance. Figs have been roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. In Mediterranean countries, low-grade Figs are converted into alcohol, which is sometimes used as a flavoring for liqueurs and tobacco. The seed yields an edible oil that can also be a lubricant. The leaves can be an animal fodder. The latex is dried and powdered for coagulating plant and animal milk. From it can be isolated the protein-digesting enzyme ficin which is used for tenderising meat, rendering fat, and clarifying beverages.
The latex of the unripe fruits and of any part of the tree may be severely irritating to the skin and eyes if not removed promptly. It is an occupational hazard not only to Fig harvesters and packers but also to workers in food industries, and to those who employ the latex to treat skin diseases. In tropical America, the latex was an ingredient in some of the early commercial detergents for household use but was abandoned after many reports of irritated or inflamed hands in housewives.
The latex is widely applied on warts, corns, skin ulcers, insect bites, and piles, and taken as a purgative and vermifuge, but with considerable risk. In Latin America, Figs are much employed as folk remedies. A decoction of the fruits is gargled to relieve sore throat and diseases of the chest; Figs boiled in milk are packed against swollen gums; the fruits are much used as poultices on tumors and other abnormal growths. The unripe green fruits are cooked with other foods as a galactogogue and tonic. A leaf decoction is taken as a remedy for stomach complaints, diabetes and calcifications in the kidneys and liver, and is used as a steam bath for swollen piles. The young branches are also a pectoral remedy. Fresh and dried Figs have long been appreciated for their laxative action.
Some members of this tree family produce rubber. Fig wood, though of low quality, may be used for hoops, garlands, emery boards, etc.
In southern France, there is some use of Fig leaves as a source of perfume material called "Fig-leaf absolute" - a dark-green to brownish-green, semi-solid mass or thick liquid of herbaceous-woody-mossy odor, employed in creating woodland scents.
Nil identified to date.
Fig extracts lost most of their allergenicity when denatured by heat (95 degrees C) but allergic reactions to fresh or dried figs are possible. (Focke 2003 ref.8256 3)
IGE AND IMMUNE:
Anaphylaxis to fresh fig. (Dechamp 1995 ref.725 52) (Gandolfo 2001 ref.4131 3)
Fig shares some common antigens with weeping fig (Ficus Benjamina). Symptoms included pruritis, generalised urticaria, facial angioedema, asthma and gastrointestinal complaints.
Five patients with oral allergy syndrome (OAS) or anaphylaxis after the ingestion of figs. Allergic reactions to fresh or dried figs can present as a consequence of primary sensitization to airborne Ficus benjamina allergens independent of sensitization to rubber latex allergens. (Focke 2003 ref.8256 3)
A report on two cases of the oral allergy syndrome (OAS) to fig. Both patients showed OAS followed by respiratory symptoms when challenged with fig. Serum specific IgE tests were negative. Skin Prick Tests with commercial extracts of fig and many other plant materials, including F. benjamina and Hevea Brasiliensis, while grass and birch pollens were positive. Prick-by-prick tests and SPT with in-house extracts indicated that the fig skin had a much higher allergenicity than the pulp. (Antico 2003 ref.8267 2)
The results of this study show that psoralen and bergapten are the only significant photoactive compounds, and are present in appreciable quantities in the leaf and shoot sap but are not detected in the fruit or its sap. These compounds are more concentrated in the leaf sap compared to the shoot sap. The psoralen levels are several times higher than those of bergapten. Lower concentrations of both compounds are present in autumn compared to spring and summer. These findings suggest that the reaction is induced primarily by psoralen. The response can follow contact with the leaf and shoot sap but not with the fruit sap, and is expected to occur more frequently from exposure to the leaf sap. The higher content of both photoactive compounds in spring and summer is partly responsible for the increased incidence of fig dermatitis during these seasons. Ingestion of the fruit does not cause photosensitization and the absence of photoactive furocoumarins in the fruit and its sap remains unexplained. (Zaynoun 1984 ref.7518 1)
Phototoxicity (photosensitization) may occur to fig (Ippen 1982 ref.968 38) or to the psoralens and bergaptens components of the bud and leaf sap. (Zayoun 1984 ref.967 39)
The irritant potential of total methanolic extract and five triterpenoids newly isolated from the leaves of Ficus carica investigated by open mouse ear assay. Total methanolic extract, calotropenyl acetate, methyl maslinate and lupeol acetate showed potent and persistent irritant effects. (Saeed 2002 ref.7506 4)
Phytophotodermatitis is an acute skin reaction that may be easily confused with other causes of contact dermatitis. It is characterized by sunburn, blisters, and/or hyperpigmentation. The reaction takes place when certain plant substances known as psoralens, after being activated by ultraviolet light from the sun, come in contact with the skin. This report describes phytodermatitis due to contact with figs. (Watemberg 1991 ref.7514 1)
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Allergy Advisor - Zing Solutions
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