The luscious fig is surely the most sensual of fruits

A symbol of fertility in many cultures, the fig has long been revered as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greeks believed figs were a gift from Dionysus, aka Bacchusa the god of wine, wanton behavior, intoxication, and ecstasy and sacred to Demeter, goddess of the harvest and fertile soil. Figs are believed to have been the favorite fruit of Cleopatra, and they reputedly played a crucial role in her suicide; having decided to take her life in 30 B.C.E. after Mark Anthony’s defeat and death, Cleopatra asked that an asp be delivered to her, concealed in a basket of figs.

Fig is the first and most mentioned fruit in the Bible, making its entrance in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve cover themselves with fig leaves. Some scholars claim that a fig, not an apple, was the unspecified forbidden fruit. The fig’s healing properties are referenced in the Bible, when Isaiah recommends a poultice made of figs to cure a boil.

The fig is native to Turkey, which remains the largest producer of the fruit, followed by California. The fruit is actually a flower inverted upon itself, and the trees are relatively short, about twenty-feet-high. Fig trees are extremely prolific; they usually produce two crops per year, and some bear fruit for up to 100 years one of the reasons the fruit symbolizes fertility as well as longevity.

It was one of these impressive trees, growing behind her Atlanta shop, that inspired Jill Jones to add a Cranberry Fig collection to her Bidwell Botanicals line about five years ago. Her research into the fig’s beneficial properties proved fruitful. Figs have been used both topically and as a diet supplement for ages due to their high vitamin content, explains Jones. Figs also have natural AHA properties that were used as far back as ancient Egypt to help refresh and brighten the skin. What they probably didn’t know, scientifically anyway, was that fig fruit contains very high levels of phytochemicals that help fight cancer and filter UV rays, thus protecting the skin. Jones intended Bidwell’s Cranberry Fig collection to be a seasonal offering, but her customers changed her plans: We brought it out for the holidays then tried to shelve it, but it was really popular people were up in arms!

Indeed, figs seem to fuel a fetish following. Californian Brook Harvey-Taylor, founder of Pacifica, says she was inspired to create her Mediterranean Fig Soap and Body Butter when she first tasted the fruit of a fig tree flourishing next door to her beachfront home about seven years ago. Once I finally ate a fresh one, I was hooked, she rhapsodizes. She also fell for the fruit’s intoxicating aroma. The scent of figs is said to be calming,she notes. I can’t think of anything better for skincare than taking time to relax and get rid of stress. The ability to really do this is what leads to long-term health and beauty.

Yet, it’s not just the fragrance that fosters fig fans. Lynn Shulman, founder of Toronto’s Elixir Spa, uses 100 percent organic fig extract in her most popular treatment, the Exfoliating Fig Enzyme Facial. The reason I chose fig is because ficin [also known as ficain], the enzyme in figs, is twenty times more powerful than papain (papaya enzyme). It does a fantastic job of exfoliating the skin without irritation. Skincare leader Dermalogica is also using fig for ficin’s exfoliating properties; its Exfoliating Body Scrub includes powder from the fruit and the tree’s latex (a milky sap), which has a higher concentration of the enzyme.

Los Angeles dermatologist Vicki Rappaport can’t verify the higher potency of ficin Papain and ficin come from the same family of cysteine proteases. If ficin is stronger, it’s still weaker than most known exfoliators in skincare. Noting the perpetual search for the latest, hottest, natural ingredient, she says, fig as an ingredient is somewhat untapped but emerging as the sexy new kid on the block. Figs are rich in oils in both the skin and the seeds and they have some mild antioxidant properties, which of course helps reverse damage in the skin. And, most of all, fig as an ingredient usually smells luscious.

That luscious smell was apparent when I recently previewed the new Cranberry Fig Conditioning Body Scrub at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. We were tired of the traditional lavender- and citrus-type scrubs, explains Spa Director Colleen Stiers of her decision to introduce this treatment. I was looking for something different but still effective. After doing some research we found the fig was Cleopatra’s favorite fruit and has been used for over 2,000 years for its health and skincare benefits. This antioxidant-rich fruit revitalizes the skin by fighting the damaging effects of the sun and environment. The treatment begins with a full-body exfoliation using Bidwell’s creamy Cranberry Fig Shea Butter Sugar Body Scrub, which is removed with warm towels, and continues with a relaxing soak in a hydrotherapy tub, followed by a light application of cranberry fig moisturizer. The rich fragrance turned heads everyone I passed wanted to know what smelled so good but better than that was the long-lasting benefit of moist and smooth skin.

While the Mediterranean pairing of fig and olive (see January’s Seasonal Spa) is prevalent as in fig soaps from Israel-based Noveya and Australia’s Mor Cosmetics cranberry is another popular partner. Unlike Jones experience at Bidwell, Bella Lucce founder Lela Rain Barker hasn’t been swayed by customer demand; spas offer her Cranberry Fig Antioxidant Wrap only as a holiday-season special. That won’t be the case at a new spa concept she is helping develop for Marriott properties in the Middle East, North Africa, and India. Sarray Spa, the first of which will debut at the new Marriott resort in Doha late this year, will offer treatments full of fig extract, fig powder, and fig concentrate. We chose figs as a key ingredient primarily because of their importance in Arabic culture, says Barker, noting that her new fig formulations will be available in the United States only via internet sale.

Shopping List

bain de terre Sugar & Fig Scalp Massage Scrub

Bidwell Botanicals Cranberry Fig Shea Butter Sugar Scrub

Davines Love Shampoo, Lovely Smoothing Shampoo with Indian Fig Extract

Dermalogica Exfoliating Body Scrub

Korres Fig Body Butter and Fig Body Scrub

Lush Figs and Leaves Soap

Mor Fig & Olive Sugar Body Polish

Noveya Fig Soap with Organic Goats Milk & Honey

Pacifica Mediterranean Soap and Body Butter

Figs in the Spa

Cranberry Fig Conditioning Body Scrub
Canyon Ranch, Lenox, MA
(800) 742-9000

Cranberry & Fig Body Smoother
Canyon Ranch Spa Club at the Venetian, Las Vegas, NV
(877) 220-2688

Exfoliating Fig Enzyme Facial Elixir Organic Spa
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(416) 203-5261

Marriage of Figaro Moist Heat Massage
just calm down spa, New York, NY
(212) 337-0032

Fruits of the Shore Body Treatment
Lake Austin Spa Resort, Austin, TX
(800) 847-5637

Make it at home

Moisture Mineral Mask

Courtesy of Brook Harvey-Taylor, co-founder, Pacifica

This (facial mask) recipe is very Santa Barbara the lavender, figs, and avocado are all very important here. At the farmers market, all of these ingredients are available almost all year.


ripe fig, peeled

tbs. honey, preferably local and organic

tsp. avocado oil

a few drops of lavender essential oil


Puree ingredients together and apply to face for at least 10 minutes. This will be sticky but well worth the results. Honey provides moisture and acts as a carrier for the nutrients in the fig. Avocado oil is full of skin-loving essential fatty acids. The fig will also act as a very mild AHA and will leave your skin smooth.

just calm down spa’s At-Home Fig Scrub

Courtesy of Tara Oolie, founder, just calm down spa

This facial scrub can also be used on the body if you increase the amounts of the ingredients, retaining the same proportions.


cup brown sugar

1/8 cup olive oil

1/4  cup finely chopped figs

1/8 cup oatmeal

1 oz. vanilla extract


Mix ingredients together, then massage onto skin for a few minutes. Rinse thoroughly.

by Bess Hochstein

Healing Lifestyles & Spas Team

Healing Lifestyles & Spas Team

Healing Lifestyles & Spas mission is to help our readers to live mindfully, eat joyfully, spa consciously.
Healing Lifestyles & Spas Team

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