Figs are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. Their remains have been found in Neolithic excavations, they are discribed in picturesque detail on Egyptian papyri, and Chinese ideagrams reveal how Buddha first gained enlightenment under a Wild Fig (or Bo) tree.
The Greeks boast that figs were a special honorarium offered to them by the goddess Demeter. Later Romans, urged on by their extravagant Emperor Cato, conquered a good part of the African continent in order to maintain a steady fig supply.
During the Dark Ages in Europe, Medieval scientists fancifully imagined the fig tree as a sort of natural meat-tenderizer. Both Plutarch and Ariosto attest that sacrificed roosters hung upon a fig tree “will presently grow tender and thus fitter for the table”.
Their unusual assertion was based on a belief at the time that the fig tree sent forth a “hot and sharp vapor“, that was somehow “digesting“, and would thus “dry and concoct” flesh.
Interestingly, the milky sap of fig leaves is known to be curative to warts, so there may in fact be some sort of corrosive quality in the fig-sap that could indeed tenderize meat. Fig leaves can also make a wonderful addition to your barbecue either by tossing a few fig leaves on the coals when you roast a leg of lamb, or wrapping salmon fillets in fig leaves before grilling to impart a subtle yet delightful flavor.