The Sacred Fig

We were gathered in a friend’s backyard in Echo Park. Holding wine glasses in hand, the setting sun slowly diminished our view of downtown L.A. and heightened the white twinkly lights draped over her garden. The chicken coop was quiet, citrus and grasses and lettuce grew all around us. It was magical; one of my favorite summer nights.  And then, we discovered the fig tree.

Is it too much to say it was a religious experience?  Perhaps it was the combination of the wine, the summer air, the sunset.  However, the fig tree is historically considered sacred.  In Buddhism, legend is that Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) while meditating underneath a Ficus religiosa (sacred fig).  And in the Bible’s Old Testament, marking the prosperity of Solomon’s lifetime, “Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.” (I Kings 4:25)

That night we stood under my friend’s fig tree and, without bothering to slice or prepare with a bit of honey or cheese, we pulled down the ripe fruit, soft to the touch, and popped fig after delicious fig into our mouths.

According to the Wikipedia page, “not all Ficus religiosa can be called a ‘Bodhi tree’. A ‘Bodhi tree’ must be able to trace its parent to another Bodhi tree and the line goes on until the first Bodhi tree under which the Lord Gautama Buddha gained enlightenment.”

Even if your tree can’t claim royal lineage, I recommend a little meditation (ahem – eating / drinking) time under a friendly fig. Don’t have a neighbor with a magical backyard? Create your own!  The best time to plant a bare root tree is in the fall or winter, but with fig season fast approaching (June – October), plan to plant from a potted tree. has great how-to videos and pointers, including the tip that all fruit trees need 6 to 8 hours of full sun. And to keep in mind how large the mature tree will be, to ensure it will not be shaded when it’s full grown.

For figs, they point out that while all fruit trees require well-drained soil, fig trees are able to handle wet soil better than the others. Ideally the soil depth should be 3 feet, but if you have a layer of hardpan, your raised bed should be about 2 feet deep.

Bodhi or basic, it can’t hurt your path to enlightenment to sit in the shade of a fig, listening to birds or the wind rustle the leaves or your neighbor sing slightly off-key. I advise you sit comfortably, surrounded by nature, a book, a plate of fresh figs, goat cheese, and honey. One of my favorite, simple recipes? Slice the fig in half, and arrange on the plate, scooping out a small dollop, if you will, of goat cheese to top each slice. (A little melon ball scoop makes it prettier for a party, but in a desperate fig & cheese craving, a teaspoon will do you.) Drizzle each with honey and sprinkle with crushed walnuts, and serve with a chilled white wine. Summer in a bite.  Pass along the enlightenment and share with friends.

Are you growing a fig tree in your backyard?  What is your favorite way to prepare them for yourself or to share? Leave a note here or on Twitter @rebeccasnavely and @TheCityFarm

Sliced Figs David Lebovitz

(Photo: David Lebovitz’s recipe for roasted figs.)