Wild fig – how to identify figs and prepare for food
Wild fig (Ficus species)
Collectively known as “fig trees” or “figs”, there are nearly 1,000 species of Ficus ranging from woody trees to shrubs and vines. Most are of the “strangler” variety, with aerial root systems, and hence easy to identify. The sticky seeds are spread by birds to other trees where they germinate high on the branches of their neighbors sending numerous roots to the ground. Their snakelike, aerial roots grow downward from the limbs forming a huge surface root spreading in all directions with an aggressiveness that literally strangles the other tree. Eventually the roots thicken and harden forming a woody envelope around the other tree. The strangled tree eventually dies, sometimes leaving a hollow cylinder inside the Wild Fig tree.
Typically these trees have alternate, simple leaves with entire margins but leaf shape can vary from oval to lobed (finger-leaf with broad, round, finger-like shape, typically three or five lobes per leaf). Often, the leaves are dark green and shiny with the vein starting at the base running more steeply towards the tip of the leaf than the other veins.
All figs have large quantities of a a white to yellowish, milky, sticky sap that sometimes oozes from open wounds in the smooth, gray bark. Twigs often have circular scars. Wild Fig has no blossoms on the tree. The fruits (which are actually the flowers of the tree) vary in size depending on the species, but are enclosed in an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig’s tiny flowers. The fruit is oval or pear-shaped and is usually yellow-brown when ripe with small flowers (i.e. the crunchy seeds) lining the inside wall. The skin of the fruit is thin and tender and the fleshy wall is usually pink, rose, or pale yellow. Ripe figs usually fall off the tree.
Where to Find: Figs are plants of the tropics and semi-tropics but their aggressive growth has allowed them to spread to other parts of the world. They grow in several different habitats, including dense forests, margins of forests, and around human settlements.
Edible Parts: The fruits are edible raw or cooked. Wash the raw fruit and peel if desired. Figs are excellent for drying. Some figs have little flavor. Figs have been used to treat stomach aches and skin diseases.
Note: The milky sap substance can irritate the skin.