Figs and fig trees are familiar to a wide cross-section of human society, both as a common food and for their spiritual importance. What is less well understood is the global nature of this association between figs and humans, which is maintained across species, continents and societies. This relationship is explored by David Wilson of Ecology and Heritage Partners and Anna Wilson from the University of Melbourne in Australia in a paper published in the Springer journal Human Ecology. Using examples from around the world, the authors show that figs are a vital resource for humans, no matter which species are present in a region.
It is well known that figs are a recurring theme in religion: it is the first fruit tree mentioned in the Bible, and some traditions believe that it was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It was the tree under which Buddha received enlightenment. Figs can also have powerful impacts on everyday life, both in a positive or negative fashion. For instance, Kikuyu women in Africa smear themselves with the sap of fig trees to ensure pregnancy. In Bolivia, soul-stealing spirits dwell in the canopy of figs and walking under, or felling, these trees can cause illness. In Papua New Guinea, figs are believed to be the haunt of evil spirits which would be released if they are felled.
Aside from their spiritual connections, figs provide a range of material uses, and the authors explore examples of these from around the world. The fig is an important food source for both humans and animals, in both fresh and dried form. Different species of fig bear fruit at different times, so in areas where there are a large variety of fig species, fruit can be available all year round. In addition to human uses, shoots and leaves of fig trees are used for animal fodder, which can sustain livestock through otherwise lean periods.
In addition to being a food source, the bark and roots from fig trees are used for manuf
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