Where did figs come from? History of figs

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Some raw figs

Wild fig trees first grew in Africa and West Asia and South Asia and around the Mediterranean Sea beginning probably about a hundred million years ago, in the time of the dinosaurs. Many primates eat figs, and people have been eating wild figs since there first were people. People loved figs because figs are a very healthy food. They’re full of calcium and potassium and fiber, and they also taste delicious. You can dry figs in hot sunshine like raisins and they’ll keep all winter, too. Fig trees produce two crops every year (at least in some climates). Some people also eat the leaves of the fig tree.

By about 11,000 years ago, people in West Asia had already begun to farm fig trees. Farmed figs may be the first kind of food that anybody farmed, even before wheat and barley. The big advantage to farming figs is that wild figs can only reproduce when tiny wasps get inside the fruit to get the pollen. People can reproduce figs by planting small branches from a tree to grow new trees, and in that way people can eat figs without the tiny wasps inside them.

A Roman painting of figs in a basket

A Roman painting of figs in a basket

In the first centuries AD, the Romans brought figs with them throughout the Roman Empire – all around the Mediterranean and to northern Europe and England. Figs probably first traveled east to China along the Silk Road after the Islamic conquests, as the first time we hear about figs in China is about 700 AD, during the T’ang Dynasty, and then people in China call figs by their Arabic name, “tin”. But it took a long time before people started to farm figs in southern Africa. When Spanish settlers came to Mexico and California from Spain in the 1500s, they brought figs with them and planted them in North America as well.

Learn by Doing – Eating Figs
More about dates
More about African food

Bibliography and further reading about figs:

Or check out the Encyclopedia Britannica article about figs.

Lamb Stew Recipe (with Figs)
More about Barley
More about West Asian food
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By |2018-01-03T23:44:12+00:00June 22nd, 2017|Africa, Food|4 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Where did figs come from? History of figs. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 22, 2017. Web. January 18, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. katkittens May 9, 2018 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    plz help me karr

  2. katkittens May 9, 2018 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    can u help me?

  3. Lloyd Kreitzer January 3, 2018 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Hi, I am the figman of New Mexico and I just read the article from Karen Carr about “wHERE do figs come from?” I did like or agree with the “faulty” understanding in her second paragraph. Taking a “caprified fig”( a fig pollinated by a tiny wasp living in a mail fig introduced at the right time into the female fig) and taking a branch from it and planting it does not make it a “common fig” which is a fig the is made up of male and female parts so it is self pollinating. They are distinct most of the time except for the fig known as the “san Pedro” that is common in one fruit production and caprified in the second fruiting. I have studied figs at U C Davis, Israel, SW Turkey and have collected 93 New Mexico varieties as well as having taught workshops on fig propagation in Colorado, New Mexico and Oaxaca State Mexico FOR 12 TO 15 YEARS and I would say that this info Karen.. is not correct.. But I am willing to be wrong and learn.This is also the first article that i HAVE EVER READ SAYING FIGS were around 100million years ago. All the sources I know and have ever quoted say the fig is 60 million years and is the oldest food that we humans eat. Do you know that monkeys will fight elephants for fig tree rights? I will be in Portland, Oregon starting Jan 10 and would enjoy speaking with you as I am more excitedly conversational in “fig”. Sincerely, Lloyd Kreitzer, the figman of New Mexico http://www.landofenfigment.com PS Who.. and or what culture eats fig leaves?

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