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Medicinal Trees: Ficus, Fig (my favorite fruit)

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Only one variety of Fig has been naturalized in my region, Ficus carica.

Dioscorides wrote of Fig under the names, Suka, Suke Agria, Olunthoi and Konia Sukes

SUKA - Ficus sativa, Ficus communis, Ficus carica — Fig

Ripe new syca are bad for the stomach and loosen the intestines but the looseness that comes from them is easily stopped. They bring out pimples and sweat, quench thirst, and extinguish heat. The dried ones are nourishing and warming, cause thirst, and are good for the bowels. They are useless for discharges of the stomach and intestines, but good for the throat, arteries, bladder and kidneys, those who have a poor colour from a long illness, as well as asthma, epilepsy and dropsy. Boiled with hyssop and taken as a drink they clean away things in the chest. They are good for old coughs and long-lasting disorders of the lungs; and pounded together with saltpetre and cnicus and eaten, they soften the bowels. A decoction of them is good for inflammation around the arteries and tonsils, used in a gargle. They are mixed in poultices with barley meal, fenugreek or barley water for women’s warm packs. Boiled with rue they are a suppository for griping. Boiled and afterwards pounded into small pieces and applied, they dissolve hard lumps and soften parotid tumours, boils and inflammatory tumours. They ripen pannus [opaque thickening of cornea with veins] more effectively with iris, saltpetre [potassium nitrate] or quicklime [calcium oxide — lime which has been burned but not yet slaked with water]. Pounded raw with the things previously specified they do the same. With pomegranate rind they clean away pterygium [membrane on the eye], and with calcanthum [limestone] they cure difficult, curable and malignant discharges in the tibiae [hollow bones, marrow, not only the tibia]. Boiled in wine and mixed with wormwood and barley meal they are good for dropsy applied as a poultice. Burnt and put into a wax ointment they cure chilblains. The raw ones pounded into small pieces mixed with moist mustard and put into the ears, cure noises and ringing in them. The (milky) juice of both the wild and cultivated figs coagulates milk like rennet, and dissolves coagulated milk like vinegar. Taken as a drink with almonds that have been pounded into small pieces it is able to make bodies break out into boils, to open pores, loosen the bowels and relax the womb. It expels the menstrual flow applied with the yolk of an egg or Tyrrhenian [Etruscan] wax. It is good put into poultices made for gout together with fenugreek flowers and vinegar. With polenta it cleans leprosy, lichen [papular skin disease], spots made by the heat of the sun, vitiligines [form of leprosy], parasitical skin diseases, and running sores on the head. Dropped on the sores it helps those stung by scorpions, and strikes of poisonous beasts, and those bitten by dogs. Taken on wool and put into the cavities of teeth it helps toothache. It takes away formicosam [anthill-shaped] warts if it is rubbed on the flesh with animal fat.

SUKE AGRIA - Wild Fig Tree

The juice of the tender leaves of the wild syca tree does the same things. When they are great with child (not yet fruiting) and the eye (bud) has not put out, they are pounded and pressed out, and the juice is dried in the shade and stored. Both the liquid and juice are taken for the strength they have to raise [fill] ulcers. The sprigs of this tree boiled with beef makes it boil quicker. They make milk more loosening if they are used to stir it with during boiling instead of a spatha. Olyntha (some of which are called erinei) boiled and applied as a poultice soften all nodules, scrofulous tumours [glandular swelling] and goitres. Applied raw with saltpetre [potassium nitrate] and meal they take away formicosam [anthill-shaped] warts and warty abnormal growths. The leaves can do the same. Applied as a poultice with vinegar and salt they heal running ulcers on the head, dandruff and epinycti [pustules which appear only at night]. Fig-like scabrous cheeks are rubbed with these. Vitiliginous [form of leprosy] white areas are plastered with the leaves or branches of the black fig. They are good also with honey for the bites of dogs, and the ulcers called favi by the Latins but by the Greeks ceria [honeycombed ulcers]. Grossi [unripe figs] with the leaves of wild poppy draw out (broken) bones, and theydissolve boils [inflammatory tumours] with wax. Applied with ervum and wine they are good against the bites of rodents, spiders, centipedes and millipedes.

KONIA SUKES - Ficus carica var sylvestris, Ficus variegata, Ficus amboinensis, Ficus racemosa, Caprificus amboinensis, Ficus carica

Lye is made from ashes of the burnt branches of the wild and cultivated syca trees. You must steep the ashes long and often. It is good both for caustic medicines and gangrenous parts, for it cleans and removes things which are superfluous. It must be used by moistening a sponge in it often and immediately applying it. Give it to some as a suppository for dysentery, old discharges, and hollow, undermining, great ulcers. For it cleans, heals, covers in flesh and closes together, similar to plasters made for bloody wounds. It is given for clotting blood together and against dripping fluids, hernia and convulsions, newly strained-out with a wine cupful of water and a little oil mixed in. By itself it helps coeliac complaints and dysentery, the amount of a wine cupful given. It is a convenient ointment with oil for those troubled with sores of the tendons, and convulsions that cause sweats. It is taken as an antidote in a drink for those who have swallowed gypsum [hydrous calcium sulphate — plaster of Paris] and for the bites of harvest spiders. The other sorts of lye have the same effects (especially that of the oak) and they are all astringent.

Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote of Fig:

The fig tree Is more hot than cold. It will always have heat, and its cold is not strong. It signifies fear. Take its leaves and bark, and pound them moderately. Cook this well in water, and then make an unguent with bear fat and a little less butter. If you have a pain in your head, anoint your head with it. If your eyes hurt, rub it on your temples and around your eyes, without letting it touch the inside of your eyes. If it is your chest that hurts, anoint it; if your kidneys, anoint them with it, and you will be better

However, if its wood is burned in a fire, and its smoke touches someone, it harms him a bit so that it weakens him. If someone carries in his hand a staff made from that wood, it diminishes his strength.

.. If a healthy person wishes to eat it (the fruit), he should first soak it in wine or vinegar, so that its inconsistency is tempered. He should then eat it, but in moderation. It is not necessary for a sick person to temper it in this way.

Gerard wrote of Fig:

The Virtues.

A. The dry figs do nourish better than the green or new figs; notwithstanding they engender not very good blood, for such people as do feed much thereon do become lousy.

B. Figs be good for the throat and lungs, they mitigate the cough, and are good for them that be short winded: they ripen phlegm, causing the same to be easily spat out, especially when they be sodden with Hyssop, and the decoction drunk.

C. Figs stamped with salt, Rue, and the kernels of nuts withstand all poison and corruption of the air. The King of Pontus, called Mithridates, used this preservative against all venom and poison.

D. Figs stamped and made into the form of a plaster with wheat meal, the powder of Fenugreek, and linseed, and the roots of Marsh Mallows, applied warm, do soften and ripen impostumes, phlegmons, all hot and angry swellings and tumors behind the ears: and if you add thereto the roots of Lilies, it ripeneth and breaketh venereous impostumes that come in the flank, which impostume is called Bubo, by reason of his lurking in such secret places: in plain English terms they are called botches.

E. Figs boiled in Wormwood wine with some barley meal are very good to be applied as an emplaster upon the bellies of such as have the dropsy.

F. Dry figs have power to soften, consume, and make thin, and may be used both outwardly and inwardly, whether it be to ripen or soften impostumes, or to scatter, dissolve, and consume them.

G. The leaves of the Fig tree do waste and consume the King's Evil, or swelling kernels in the throat, and do mollify, waste, and consume all other tumours, being finely pounded and laid thereon: but after my practise, being boiled with the roots of marsh Mallows until they be soft, and so incorporated together, and applied in form of a plaster.

H. The milky juice either of the figs or leaves is good against all roughness of the skin, lepries, spreading sores, tetters, smallpox, measles, pushes, wheals, freckles, lentils, and all other spots, scurviness, and deformity of the body and face, being mixed with barley meal and applied: it doth also take away warts and such like excrescences, if it be mingled with some fatty or greasy thing.

I. The milk doth also cure the toothache, if a little lint or cotton be wet therein, and put into the hollowness of the tooth.

K. It openeth the veins of the hemorrhoids, and looseneth the belly, being applied to the fundament.

L. Figs stamped with the powder of Fenugreek, and vinegar, and applied plasterwise, do ease the intolerable pain of the hot gout, especially the gout of the feet.

M. The milk thereof put into the wound proceeding of the biting of a mad dog, or any other venomous beast, preserveth the parts adjoining, taketh away the pain presently, and cureth the hurt.

N. The green and ripe figs are good for those that be troubled with the stone of the kidneys, for they make the conduits slippery, and open them, and do also somewhat cleanse: whereupon after the eating of the same, it happeneth that much gravel and sand is conveyed forth.

O. Dry or barrel figs, called in Latin Caricæ, are a remedy for the belly, the cough, and for old infirmities of the chest and lungs: they scour the kidneys, and cleanse forth the sand, they mitigate the pain of the bladder, and cause women with child to have the easier deliverance, if they feed thereof for certain days together before their time.

P. Dioscorides saith, that the white liquor of the Fig tree, and juice of the leaves, do curdle milk as rennet doth, and dissolve the milk that is cluttered in the stomach, as doth vinegar.

Q. It bringeth down the menses, if it be applied with the yolk of an egg, or with yellow wax.

Culpepper was somewhat less effusive:

The tree is under the dominion of Jupiter. The milk that issues out from the leaves or branches where they are broken off, being dropped upon warts, takes them away. The decoction of the leaves is excellent good to wash sore heads with: and there is scarcely a better remedy for the leprosy than it is. It clears the face also of morphew, and the body of white scurf, scabs, and running sores. If it be dropped into old fretting ulcers, it cleanses out the moisture, and brings up the flesh; because you cannot have the leaves green all the year, you may make an ointment of them while you can. A decoction of the leaves being drank inwardly, or rather a syrup made of them, dissolves congealed blood caused by bruises or falls, and helps the bloody flux. The ashes of the wood made into an ointment with hog's grease, helps kibes and chilblains. The juice being put into an hollow tooth, eases pain; as also deafness and pain and noise in the ears, being dropped into them. An ointment made of the juice and hog's grease, is as excellent a remedy for the biting of mad dogs, or other venomous beasts, as most are; a syrup made of the leaves, or green fruit, is excellent for coughs, hoarseness, or shortness of breath, and all diseases of the breast and lungs; it is very good for the dropsy and falling sickness.

Mrs. Grieve gives us a bit of history along with medical use:

The Common Fig-tree provides the succulent fruit that in its fresh and dried state has been valued from the earliest days. It is indigenous to Persia, Asia Minor and Syria, but now is wild in most of the Mediterranean countries. It is cultivated in most warm and temperate climates and has been celebrated from the earliest times for the beauty of its foliage and for its 'sweetness and good fruit' (Judges ix. 2), there being frequent allusions to it in the Scriptures. The Greeks are said to have received it from Caria in Asia Minor - hence the specific name. Under Hellenic culture it was improved and Attic figs became celebrated in the East. It was one of the principal articles of sustenance among the Greeks, being largely used by the Spartans at their public table; and athletes fed almost entirely on figs, considering that they increased their strength and swiftness. To such an extent, indeed, were figs a part of the staple food of the people in ancient Greece that there was a law forbidding the exportation of the best fruit from their trees.

Figs were early introduced into Italy. Pliny gives details of no less than twentynine kinds known in his day, and specially praises those of Tarant and Caria and also those of Herculaneum. Dried Figs have been found in Pompeii in our days and in the wall-paintings of the buried city Figs are represented together with other fruits. Pliny states that homegrown Figs formed a large portion of the food of slaves, especially in the fresh state for agricultural workers.

The Fig plays an important part in Latin mythology. It was dedicated to Bacchus and employed in religious ceremonies. The wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus rested under a Fig tree, which was therefore held sacred by the Romans, and Ovid states that among the celebrations of the first day of the year by Romans, Figs were offered as presents. The inhabitants of Cyrene crowned themselves with wreaths of Figs when sacrificing to Saturn, holding him to be the discoverer of the fruit. Pliny speaks also of the Wild Fig, which is mentioned also in Homer, and further classical references to the Fig are to be found in Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Varro and Columella.

Medicinal Action and Uses---Figs are used for their mild, laxative action, and are employed in the preparation of laxative confections and syrups, usually with senna and carminatives. It is considered that the laxative property resides in the saccharine juice of the fresh fruit and in the dried fruit is probably due to the indigestible seeds and skin. The three preparations of Fig of the British Pharmacopoeia are Syrup of Figs, a mild laxative, suitable for administration to children; Aromatie Syrup of Figs, Elixir of Figs, or Sweet Essence of Figs, an excellent laxative for children and delicate persons, is compounded of compound tincture of rhubarb, liquid extract of senna, compound spirit of orange, liquid extract of cascara and Syrup of Figs. The Compound Syrup of Figs is a stronger preparation, composed of liquid extract of senna, syrup of rhubarb and Syrup of Figs, and is more suitable for adults.

Figs are demulcent as well as nutritive. Demulcent decoctions are prepared from them and employed in the treatment of catarrhal affections of the nose and throat.

Roasted and split into two portions, the soft pulpy interior of Figs may be applied as emolient poultices to gumboils, dental abscesses and other circumscribed maturating tumours. They were used by Hezekiah as a remedy for boils 2,400 years ago (Isaiah xxxviii. 21).

The milky juice of the freshly-broken stalk of a Fig has been found to remove warts on the body. When applied, a slightly inflamed area appears round the wart, which then shrivels and falls off. The milky juice of the stems and leaves is very acrid and has been used in some countries for raising blisters.

The wood of the tree is porous and of little value, though a piece, saturated with oil and spread with emery, is in France a common substitute for a hone.

Green Fig Jam is excellent. Choose very juicy Figs. Take off the stalks, but do not peel them. Make a syrup of 1/2 lb. of sugar and a glass of water (1/2 pint) for each pound of fruit. Put the Figs into it and cook them till the syrup pearls. Boil a stick of cinnamon with them and remove it before pouring the jam into pots.

The Sycamore Fig (Ficus Sycamorus) is a tree of large size, with heart-shaped, somewhat mulberry-like leaves. It is a favourite tree in Egypt and Syria, being often planted along roads, deep shade being cast by its spreading branches. It bears a sweet, edible fruit, somewhat like that of the Common Fig, but produced in racemes, on the older branches. The Ancients, after soaking it in water, preserved it like the Common Fig. The porous wood is only fit for fuel.

Our northern Sycamore tree is in no way related to this Sycamore Fig, but has wrongly acquired its name, Prior says, through a mistake of the botanist Ruellius, who transferred the Greek name, Sycamoros, properly the name of the Wild Fig, to the great Maple.

'This mistake,' says Prior, 'arose perhaps from this tree, the great maple, being on account of the density of its foliage, used in the sacred dramas of the Middle Ages to represent the Fig tree into which Zaccheus climbed and that in which the Virgin Mary on her journey into Egypt had hidden herself and the infant Jesus to avoid the fury of Herod; a legend quoted by Stapel on Theophrastus and by Thevenot in his Voyage de Levant: "At Mathave is a large sycamore or Pharaoh's Fig, very old, but which bears fruit every year. They say that upon the Virgin passing that way with her son Jesus and being pursued by the people, this Fig tree opened to receive her and closed her in again, until the people had passed by and then opened again. The tree is still shown to travellers." ' (See Cowper's Apocryphal Gospels.)

King's American Dispensatory, 1898 tells us:

Action and Medical Uses.—Figs are nutritive, emollient, demulcent, and aperient, and are used in costive habits, and to flavor gruels, decoctions, etc. Roasted or boiled, they may be applied as a suppurative poultice to gum-boils, buboes, carbuncles, etc. A poultice of dried figs and milk will remove the stench of cancerous and fetid ulcers (Billroth).

Plants for A Future stares:

Medicinal use of Fig: A decoction of the leaves is stomachic. The leaves are also added to boiling water and used as a steam bath for painful or swollen piles. The latex from the stems is used to treat corns, warts and piles. It also has an analgesic effect against insect stings and bites. The fruit is mildly laxative, demulcent, digestive and pectoral. The unripe green fruits are cooked with other foods as a galactogogue and tonic. The roasted fruit is emollient and used as a poultice in the treatment of gumboils, dental abscesses etc. Syrup of figs, made from the fruit, is a well-known and effective gentle laxative that is also suitable for the young and very old. A decoction of the young branches is an excellent pectoral. The plant has anticancer properties.

The Physicians’ Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine tells us:

Fig preparations are used as a laxative. In China, figs are used for dysentery and enteritis. No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages.

This article is an excerpt from The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: by Judson Carroll

His New book is:

Medicinal Shrubs and Woody Vines of The American Southeast An Herbalist's Guide
Read About Growing Your Survival Herb Garden for Preppers, Homesteaders and Everyone Else: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2022/06/medicinal-shrubs-and-woody-vines-of.html

Available for purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B2T4Y5L6

His other works include:

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The Encyclopedia of Bitter Medicinal Herbs:


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Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide


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Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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