People have eaten figs for thousands of years. According to Ken Love, a long time Hawaiian fruit grower, remnants of figs have turned up in archeological digs from 5,000 BC. The ancient Romans cultivated figs. More than 1,000 varieties are grown today around the world. But not everybody enjoys picking a fig off a tree. Figs make some people itch, or worse.
The unpleasant side effects of fig trees range from mild to severe. Figs contain latex, which can cause itching. For some people, picking a fresh fig is worth mild discomfort. Jim Conrad writes in his Naturalist Newsletter, "After a while I get good and sweaty and itchy, and my hands are all gummy from the figs' latex." But he adds, "The sweat and itching make the stretched-for fig a little sweeter."
Rashes and Blisters
Phytodermatitis is a more severe possible reaction to figs. It ranges from a slight burn to bad blistering. Phytodermatitis is caused by exposure to ultraviolet light after directly exposing skin to irritant plants. Figs are part of the Moraceae family, which is commonly associated with phytodermatitis.
Dr. José G. B. Derraik wrote in the New Zealand Medical Journal about treating two arborists with acutely blistered hands and forearms. The day after pruning a large fig tree, these symptoms appeared. The men initially tried to treat their conditions with topical remedies. But when symptoms intensified, both sought medical help. It took several weeks for them to fully recover, and one man missed 10 days of work.
People who suffer from dermatitis caused by figs should thoroughly wash the affected body parts. In the future, they should avoid direct contact with fig trees. In more severe cases, steroid creams may be used. Sufferers can buy 0.5% hydrocortisone preparations over the counter without a prescription.
Eating figs cannot cause phytodermatitis, but some people have a separate allergy to figs. Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that affects the whole body, has been reported by fig eaters. This might be related to a cross-reaction with the rubber latex the fig contains.