History of Figs

The fig is believed to be indigenous to western Asia and to have been distributed by man throughout the Mediterranean area. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C.

Figs were probably one of the first fruits to be dried and stored by man. There was a fig tree in the Garden of Eden, and in fact, the fig is the most talked about fruit in the Bible. Whether a fig was the forbidden fruit is debatable, but it is definite that a fig tree provided the first clothing; “...the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”.

Figs were mentioned in a Babylonian hymn book about 2000 BC. Legend has it that the Greek goddess Demeter first revealed to mortals the fruit of autumn, which they called the fig. The fig tree was held sacred in all countries of Southwestern Asia, and in Egypt, Greece, and Italy.

The ancient city of Attica was famous for its figs and they soon became a necessity for its citizens, rich or poor. Solon, the ruler of Attica (639-559 BC), actually made it illegal to export figs out of Greece, reserving them solely for his citizens. The Persian King Xerxes, after his defeat by the Greeks at Salamis in 480 BC, had figs from Attica served him at every meal to remind him that he did not possess the land where this fruit grew.

Every inhabitant of Athens, including Plato, was a “philosykos”. Literally translated, “a friend of the fig”. And Mithridates, the Greek King of Pontus, heralded figs as an antidote for all ailments, instructed his physicians to use them medicinally, and ordered his citizens to consume figs daily. As a token of honor, figs were used as a training food by the early Olympic athletes, and figs were also presented as laurels to the winners as the first Olympic “medal”.

The Romans regarded Bacchus as the god who introduced the fig to mankind. This made the tree sacred, and all images of the god were often crowned with fig leaves. The first figs of the season were offered to Bacchus, and at festivals in his honor, devout females wore garlands of dried figs.

Pliny, the Roman writer (52-113 AD) said, “Figs are restorative. They increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles”.

It is said that the prophet Mohammed once exclaimed: “If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise it would certainly be the fig”.

Figs are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, as well as the Odyssey; by Aristophanes, Herodotus and Cato; and the fig is reported to have been the favorite fruit of Cleopatra, with the asp that ended her life being brought to her in a basket of figs.

Figs arrived in Brasil in the XVI century brought by the Portuguese settlers. The most common cultivar in Brazil is known as Roxo de Valinhos (sp. Adriatic). Lino Busatto, an italian immigrant, who arrived at Valinhos (district of Campinas) in 1898 had the idea to import the first fig seedlings from an Italian region near the Adriatic Sea. The first seedlings arrived in 1901 and had an easy adaptation. In 1910 the figs were already produced in commercial scale, giving Valinhos the status of national capital of purple fig ("Valinhos - Capital do Figo Roxo").

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