Thursday, August 12, 2010

The fig tree

Country people used to say that the cicada appears when the fruit of the fig starts to ripen while others even claimed that the cicada actually ripens them. The adult cicada lives for a few summer weeks while the fig survives for many years and can grow into a large spreading tree that can produce large quantities of good tasting fruit every year.
The fig tree is an indigenous tree native to Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean. It has been cultivated in the Maltese islands for centuries and often grows wild in the most improbable of places. The large lobed leaves are easily recognised as they have been used for by artists to cover the genitals of nude figures. In the Book of Genesis Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves after eating the forbidden fruit.
The fig tree, known in Maltese as si─íra tat-tin was one of the first plants to be cultivated. Remains which were found in a Neolithic village in Jordan were dated to 9,400 to 9,200 BC. It was domesticated before wheat, barley and rye. Its fruit known in Maltese as tin is eaten raw, cooked, or dried. Once harvested the fruit does not keep well and should be eaten with the least possible delay unless it is to be preserved. Cato a Roman statesman urged the Romans to destroy Carthage and showed the Senate a handful of fresh figs from Carthage to show its proximity to Rome and hence the threat.
In the millennia that this species has been cultivated many varieties and cultivars have been developed. These vary in many ways including in the colour of the skin can be green purple or brown. When a branch, leave or fruit is broken off the tree releases a white sap which is an irritant to human skin. In the past the sap was sometimes used to reduce the pain and swelling of a bee or wasp sting.
Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fibre. Dried figs are rich in fibre, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K and have smaller amounts of many other nutrients. Figs are used as a laxative and contain many antioxidants. (This article was published in The Times 12.08.2010)

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