Figs were cultivated by many ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures, and were mentioned in the biblical books of Genesis and in Revelation, and in quite a few other places in between. They were usually mentioned as symbols of plenty and prosperity, often alongside pomegranates, grapes, raisins, and olives. (Some scholars even speculate that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a fig, and not the apple usually depicted in artwork. I imagine they think this because Adam and Eve sewed garments for themselves out of fig leaves after the Fall, though I’m not sure why they’d have wanted anything more to do with that tree.)
Figs (or ficus carica) are very nutrient dense, naturally sweet, and pack a number of health benefits. Here’s some of them.
Figs for Gut Health
Figs are packed with fiber: just three or four of them makes up 20% of your daily recommended intake. Fiber of course helps to keep you regular, bulking stool and decreasing abdominal discomfort when passing it.
Figs are also a great source of prebiotics, which serve as food for the probiotics that make up your microbiome and keep it healthy.
Figs as a Source of Antioxidants
Like most fruits and veggies, figs are chock-full of antioxidants in the form of phenols and flavonoids.
Antioxidants are always protective against oxidative stress.
This study shows that the flavonoids and phenols in figs protect specifically against DNA damage.
This one shows the they are protective against oxidative stress in the liver.
This one shows that the antioxidants in figs are protective to the brain, and can thus stave off degenerative changes from Alzheimer’s disease.
Antioxidant effects are usually also anti-inflammatory; this study does show that figs are as well.
Figs Lower Blood Pressure
Many fruits and veggies are also quite high in potassium, which makes them great for blood pressure. Figs are especially high in potassium: just five fresh figs contain around 460 mg of it.
That may be why this rat study shows that fig extract significantly reduces blood pressure.
(Figs are also exceptionally high in other minerals too, including calcium, magnesium, strontium, and iron.)
Figs Regulate Blood Sugar
Figs have also been studied for diabetes, and in addition to their antioxidant capacity, which should help to prevent diabetic complications, they have also been shown to directly lower blood sugar—though the sugar (fructose) content in figs themselves is relatively high. (The fiber content presumably has at least something to do with this, slowing the blood sugar spike.)
Figs Are Antimicrobial
Figs are effective against all four of the primary types of pathogenic organisms.
This study shows that figs are antibacterial, and particularly that they are effective against oral bacteria.
This study shows that fig milk, or the sap from the tree, is anti-fungal against candida.
This study shows that fig leaf extract is effective against at least one virus: the herpetic blisters from HSV-1.
Figs for Skin Health
Fig milk has other beneficial properties for the skin as well. It’s particularly good for warts, perhaps because the enzymes in the milk help to break down protein. Fig milk is only slightly less effective for warts than cryotherapy.
Fig extract also tends to protect against the breakdown of collagen, and of course it also still has antioxidant effects, which helps to minimize the appearance of wrinkles.
Ways to Consume Figs
Figs can of course be enjoyed fresh or dried. Due to the high sugar content, a few at a time is best.
Several of the remedies above come from fig leaves, which can be steeped in hot water and enjoyed as a tea. You can add the fruit itself to the tea as well, for a more comprehensive “extract.”