The fig tree (Ficus carica) in my childhood home’s backyard was old and its trunk had two 90-degree bends, so it grew first vertically, then horizontally, and vertically again.
I spent a lot of time in that yard as a kid, picking fresh figs with a tin can and blade on a wooden stick (which we called “the fig picker”) before eating them among the giant green leaves.
The fig tree has been cultivated for food since ancient times, and dried figs have even been found at an archaeological site that dates back to around 5,000 BCE.
The grain and agriculture goddess Demeter is associated with the fig tree, and there was a grove of fig trees dedicated to her near the Eleusinian sanctuary.
The fig tree symbolism has been interpreted in different ways throughout history. Some have linked it with fertility and abundance, as the leaves and fruits are an important food source. Others have associated it with knowledge and wisdom, based on the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible.
Whatever its meaning, there is no doubt that the fig tree holds a special place in many people’s hearts, as a symbol of growth, renewal, and nourishment.
Fertility and good fortune
Dionysus and Demeter (ancient Greek)
The Athenians were renowned for their figs and it was illegal to export them. When the Persian King Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 BCE, he raided Athens on 21 September- which just happened to be one of his dinner courses that night.
About Fig Trees
The fig genus, of which there are over 800 species, contains trees, shrubs and woody vines with milky sap. They’re found in tropical and subtropical regions and usually thrive in warm climates but can tolerate frost.
The leaves are lobed and thick, usually large too. The fruit is globose or pear-shaped with a small opening at its tip that contains many seeds within its fleshy exterior; not all figs have edible fruits, though.
The common fig grows rather erratically, and can be as tall as 30 feet (9 meters). Its leaves are deeply lobed with a rough texture on top and downy beneath.
If we’re getting technical, botanically speaking, figs aren’t fruits at all. They’re fleshy receptacles that hold the numerous seeds we refer to as “fruits.”
The fig has a peculiar way of reproduction. It exists in two forms: the “wild” bisexual tree, the caprifig (F. caprificus), and the cultivated female tree. The former only has female flowers, whereas the latter has both male and female flowers inside hollow receptacles.
Nevertheless, during early ripening stages there is an opening at the tip of a “wild” caprifig that allows access for a specific insect – a gall wasp (Blastophaga psenes) – to lay its eggs on ovaries located inside; thus resulting in transformation into galls.
By doing this, the flower won’t be able to fruit, but the young wasps will have pollen on them before they leave the caprifig.
They’ll visit the female figs on a cultivated tree and fertilize it afterwards. The cultivation of this plant relies heavily on these insects for its success.
Fig trees do best in climates similar to that of the Mediterranean and tropics, but can also survive some degree of frost.
Figs have been an important food source for humans since ancient times. Archaeologists found 7,000-year-old dried figs at the Neolithic settlement at Gezer in Israel.
The common fig has been cultivated since early times for its delicious and nutritious fruits. In hot climates, fig trees also provide welcome shade.
Figs are an excellent source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and iron. The syrup is a safe and gentle laxative that can also help to relieve dry, irritating coughs.
The milky latex from figs can be effective in treating warts (but avoid getting it on the surrounding skin as it may cause irritation or dermatitis).
Fig leaf infusions have been used to treat diabetes for centuries and recent research suggests it can lower blood sugar levels in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes.
The fig fruits referenced in Traditional Chinese Medicine are thought to be sweet and of neutral temperature. They act as a tonic for the essential energy within our bodies, which is important because blood provides the physical root of our consciousness.
Figs also help regulate heart function and remove toxins from our systems. It is recommended that one or two figs be eaten at bedtime to relieve constipation symptoms.
According to ayurvedic medicine, figs are naturally sweet and have cooling properties. They also can help increase kapha while relieving vata and pitta.
Figs are believed to be soul food because they can improve mood while providing the body with energy.
Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Fig Trees
In the Old Testament, the fig tree is mentioned 37 times. It’s named as the very first plant in the Bible – after eating from the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make loincloths (Genesis 3:7).
And scholars have repeatedly questioned if perhaps that proximity means the fig tree was The Tree of Knowledge.
The fig is commonly associated with temptation in Greek Orthodox iconography. However, the original Hebrew text only mentions a “fruit”. Therefore, the fig tree is not to blame; Adam and Eve utilized it for clothing after they were banned from Eden.
This fruit is often associated with fertility. In the ancient Mediterranean, figs were a symbol of sexuality and were used as an aphrodisiac.
The fig’s similarity in appearance to human testicles was not lost on the ancient Greeks – in fact, the plural for figs was also the word for testicles. And the fig was sacred to Dionysus, the god of ecstasy.
Dionysus was called Philosykos, “friend of the fig”, and statues of him were made from its wood in Attica (the peninsula where Athens is located that is fertile). A giant phallus made from fig wood was carried around during his annual festival procession.
The Spartans also had a cult which thanked Dionysus for giving the fig tree to humankind. Because the ancient gift of the fig marked an important cultural transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer society to a sedentary population of farmers, it was carried at the very front of Greek processions and called hegetria, “female leader”.
The Hiera Syke in Athens was a sacred space where, according to legend, the first fig tree took root. The tree was holy to Demeter, the goddess of grain, who also kept a mulberry grove near her main temple in Eleusis.
The Ruminal fig, located on the western slope of Rome’s Palatine hill and fenced off for protection, was considered consecrated. This is where, according to legend, Romulus and Remus- the founding fathers of Rome- were said to have washed ashore after being carried downriver by the Tiber.
The two took shelter under a tree before being suckled by a wolf. The name “Ruminal” comes from ruma meaning “mother’s breast”, an association that was passed down in not only the names of Romulus and Remus but also in that Rome itself.
After this story circulated, the fig became known as the bringer of good luck.
Symbolism and Meanings of the Fig Tree
The fig has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries and is associated with Aphrodite, Hathor, and Dionysus – all gods and goddesses of love, pleasure, and sexuality.
Fertility and Potency
Not only was Dionysus the Greek god of intoxication and sexuality, but he was also a god of fertility. Ancient statues of him as well as phalluses associated with him were made out of fig wood.
Additionally, it’s interesting to note that in Ancient Greece, the word for testicles is the same as the plural word for figs.
Certainly then, fig trees must possess some lusty and potent vibration given their cultural connection to reproductive organs.
The fig tree has been considered lucky since ancient times. This is because the city of Rome was founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were famously raised by a wolf beneath a fig tree.
Similarly, Juno, the matron goddess of Rome and protector of the state’s prosperity, was associated with the fig tree in her role as a fertility goddess.
The fig tree is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible and has been celebrated for its symbolism and meanings by many cultures. Today, the fig tree is still revered as a symbol of fertility, prosperity, and good luck.
If you’re looking to add a touch of elegance and good fortune to your home or garden, consider planting a fig tree.