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Some raw figs: History of figs

Where are wild figs from?

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.

The Cretaceous period
Flowering plants
History of food

When did people start to eat figs?

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.

More about primates
What is calcium for?

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, which is also fine.

When did people farm figs?

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.

History of farming
Stone Age West Asia
Stone Age timeline
All our West Asia articles

Why did people farm figs?

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.

When did wasps evolve?

A Roman painting of figs in a basket

A Roman painting of figs in a basket

Figs reach northern Europe

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.

Roman food

Figs come to China

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”.

Early Chinese food

Figs in South Africa and the Americas

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.

Medieval African food
American food and colonization

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 home