The Inflorescent Stem
If I say the word fig, what is the first word that comes to mind? Many of you are probably thinking of a famous scientist. While the fig is one of the most ancient fruits consumed by humans, today more people seem to know what a Fig Newton tastes like than the actual natural fruit from which these popular fruit cookies are made. Starting in 1891, the Fig Newton was one of the first machine-produced cookies in the U.S. Today, over 1 billion of these fig cookies are consumed each year.
But I digress. This week’s article is not about one of the most popular cookies ever invented but the fruit from which it is made. The fig, or Ficus carica is a deciduous tree in the mulberry family. This flowering plant is native to the Middle East and parts of Asia and has been widely consumed by humans for several millennia.
Biologically, the fig is a real wonder. The “fruit” of a fig is actually an inflorescence (group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem) that grow inside a syconium. In other words, the “fruit” of a fig is actually an enlarged part of the stem inside of which multiple unisexual flowers grow. You never get to see a fig flower because its flowers bloom inside its infructescence.
For you Fig Newton lovers, I hate to break it to you but when the package says “made with real fruit” that is not biologically correct. Because the fig is actually an infructescence or scion of the fig tree, it is more accurately a “false fruit,” or hollow-ended stem that contains many flowers and seeds. But don’t expect Nabisco to rebrand their cookies any time soon. “Made with real flowering fig stems” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “made with real fruit”.
By the way, for those of you wondering how the fig flowers get pollinated since its flowers grow inside the stem of a fig tree, you might be surprised to learn that some varieties are self-pollinated but others require the help of a fig wasp. On the bottom of many varieties of figs are a small orifice called an ostiole. This opening allows a specialized fig wasp (Blastophaga psenes) to enter the stem and pollinate the fig flowers. For you deep thinkers out there, here’s a question for you: What came first, the fig or the fig wasp?
Health Benefits of the Fig
One of the best-known health benefits of figs is that they are packed with fiber. One medium sized fig contains 5 percent of the recommended daily value of fiber. Figs are also a great source of vitamin B6, copper, pantothenic acid, potassium and trace amounts of manganese. I know you’ve probably heard that legend has it humans once wore fig leaves, but did you know that you can also eat them?
In some cultures, fig leaves are known for their healthful properties. In fact, some studies have shown that fig leaves have insulin-moderating properties. In animal studies, fig leaves have been shown to lower triglycerides. In vitro studies of fig leaves have also shown that they inhibit some types of cancer cell growth. Scientists have yet to determine the exact reason fig leaves produce these promising results.
This Week at the Market
It will be fresh fig season for a few more weeks at the Sierra Vista Farmers Market. If you’ve never tried these delicious and healthful flowering stems, then now is your chance. Fresh fig season is rather short, but right now our vendors have Brown Turkey and Black Mission figs. You might also find a few Kadota and Calimyrna figs if you are lucky.
We have more than figs at the market this week, though. You’ll also find fresh watermelons, cantaloupe, pears, peaches, apples, plums, pluots, tomatoes, beans, and okra, to name just a few of the many delicious fruits and vegetables our vendors have for you this week.
Remember, we also have natural range-fed beef and lamb, fresh baked food, pastries, cakes, and lots more. Please see our weekly newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com for a full listing of all our vendors and the great products they will be bringing for you.
We hope to see you at the Sierra Vista Farmers Market this week!
Submitted by William Struse