Climbing Fig, Creeping Fig

by Green Deane

in Beverage, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Jam/Jelly, Vines

Unripe climbing fig fruit is much maligned in English.

If there is one thing about the Internet that squeezes the sap out of me it is how mistakes proliferate rather than get corrected. I have ranted about that several times in many articles so there’s no need to vent that botanical spleen again except to say the Ficus pumila has been added to the got-it-wrong list.

Climbing figs ready for processing

Nearly every site in English will tell you the fruit of the Climbing Fig, Ficus pumila, is not edible (aka Ficus repens, Creeping Fig.)  A couple of sites even scream it is toxic (and warn you about spines it does not have.)  I will agree the Climbing Fig is not high on the edibility list and barely squeaks in. But, with proper preparation it can produce an edible product that is very popular in Asian countries. It is not toxic. It does not have spines.

I first saw Creeping Fig in Tampa a few years ago at an outdoor restaurant in Ybor City, that town’s Latin Quarter. It was successfully climbing several brick walls which is that fig’s particular claim to fame. It climbs. It will also ruin any wooden structure it climbs on so a  lot of folks also don’t like it because of that. However, give it the right environment and materials and you will soon have a living wall that does produce a food. What is that food?

Typical fig display of seeds inside the fruit

There are two species of the fig and while processed in a slightly different manner, the end goal is the same. The fruit is picked ripe, put in a porous bag, then squeezed. The resulting juice is cooked then cooled into a gelatinous jelly. It is mixed with water, or syrup and flavorings — usually lemon — to make a refreshing drink. Or it is served as a cooled gel, like “jello.” Many Asian markets sell the canned jelly under the name “Grass Jelly” or “Ai-yu Jelly.” A second species, really a variety, Ficus pumila var. awkeotsang is slightly different. Called the Chinese Jello Vine or Ai-yu-tzu, its fruit is sometimes eaten out of hand. Or, turned inside out when not quite ripe, dried, then the seeds are mixed with water to again get a gel used the same way as its relative.

Aiyu jelly ready to eat

Who discovered the fruit makes a jelly is unknown but there is a traditional story. In the 1800’s a businessman stopped at a river to get a drink and noticed a yellow gel in the water which he tired and liked. He noticed figs nearby dripping liquid into the river. He then delegated his daughter, Aiyu, to figure out how it was made and sell it. After she was successful he named the jelly and the plant after her. Nice guy. Almost cute story. Would you taste a yellow gel you found floating in a river today? Or then?

Ficus (FEE-kus) is Dead Latin for fig. Pumila (POO-mil-ah) is Dead Latin dwarf. Repens (REE-penz) is also Dead Latin for creeping, or recent, but with plants it usually means creeping. Awkeotsang is anglicized Chinese for the vine. The Jelly is called “Aiyu” as well as Pinyin. There is at least on cultivar, called Minima, which has small leaves. Species is sometimes wrongly called Ficus scandens.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Climbing Fig

IDENTIFICATION: Ficus pumila: Vigorous, self-clinging, evergreen vine. Holds to any surface with aerial rootlets. Ovate leaves are heart-shaped, juvenile foliage, half-inch long, much lager in age, two three inches long, sticks out from vine. One variety has an oak leaf shape. A common landscape vine in tropical, subtropical areas, to feet or more. Very pronounced venation on underside of leaf. Two distinct leaf types: juvenile foliage is very small and tend to hug wall, or trellis that it is growing on. Hairy pear-shaped fruits to 2.5 inches long may appear on outdoor plants throughout the year. Potted plants rarely fruit. Fruit purple when ripe. It can cover a fence to the point it looks like a shrub or a hedge completely hiding the fence.

TIME OF YEAR: All year long but locally they favor the fall but can be found in late spring.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes full sun and something to climb on. Do not over water. Where I’ve seen it growing it only gets rain water.

Fig is turned inside out and allowed to dry some

METHOD OF PREPARATION: With Ficus pumila the fruits are squeezed in a porous bag and the liquid cooked. With  Ficus pumila var. awkeotsangthe nearly ripe fruit is tuned inside out and allowed to dry for a few days. The seeds are put in porous bag which is put in water and rubbed. The seeds release a gel which takes a few minutes.  The gel is allowed to set in a cool location. There cannot be any grease in the jelling pan or sugar. Distilled water cannot be used and the seeds should not be rubbed so hard they break. The jelly usually served with honey and lemon juice but can also be used to flavor shaved ice. The gel will not dissolve in hot water, thus it is sometimes added to various dishes.

HERB BLURB

What this abstract means, I think, is that adding the jelly to a fermenting must reduced the alcohol production.

Crude pectinesterase (PE) inhibitor (PEI) extracted from jelly-fig achenes (JFA) (Ficus awakeosang Makino) was added to carambola (Averrhoa carambola L.) puree to determine the change in methanol production during fermentation. Addition of pectin or microbial pectic enzyme to puree increased dose-dependently the methanol content in fermented products. Decreasing ratio (from 1:0 to 1:19, v:v) of pectic enzyme to diluted crude PEI solution in the puree−enzyme mixture decreased the PE activity remarkably. Except for transmittance (%T), addition of crude PEI to puree did not affect apparently the physical and chemical properties of wine; however, it reduced methanol content in the control from 256 to 58 ppm. The degree of esterification (DE) of pectin in starting puree was 70%. It decreased to 27% in the control group and reduced slightly to 67% in fermented puree with crude PEI added after 14 days of fermentation. This reveals that crude PEI solution was potent in inhibiting intrinsic carambola PE activity and appeared to be a potential alternative for methanol reduction in wines

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joyce April 12, 2012 at 22:08

Wonderful article. A friend and I found this vine and its fruits on a brick wall while walking around in her neighborhood. We took pictures of the vine and its fruit (both inside and outside), fascinated by its appearance, but tossed away the fruit because we didn’t know it was edible. We might get some cuttings next time, but are worried that since they were growing in a posh neighborhood, that they might have been sprayed with pesticides. How long can a plant store pesticides in its tissues?

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2 Green Deane April 14, 2012 at 17:36

New growth should not be affected.

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3 Angela May 20, 2012 at 19:59

I wish I had found your site earlier this year, I had fruits for the first time, what a surprise!, and everything I found online said they were toxic or not edible. I threw them all away. Dang!
I’m near Houston so my climate should be similar to yours. I am enjoying your videos too and learning a lot.

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4 Tina April 17, 2013 at 15:38

Angela,

I live in Houston. I’ve been looking everywhere for this plant. Is it possible to get a cutting from you?

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5 Tom March 3, 2013 at 18:03

How might one purchase this creeping fig in the United States for growth in their yard?

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6 Green Deane March 3, 2013 at 18:31

Many nurseries sell it.

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7 Ashley July 1, 2013 at 20:04

Home depot sells them, which is how I was able to identify it was the kind on our brick wall.

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8 john April 4, 2013 at 11:16

Is this is an evasive plant? I have some in a grenhouse as a specimen.

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9 eswari May 5, 2013 at 01:46

Extremely, horribly invasive but green and beautiful. I have been trying to get rid of it for years halfheartedly off course. But I did not know about the fruits.

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10 Stoney April 7, 2013 at 11:18

This vine is growing fast and weighing down limbs, it’s choking my 150 year old pin oak. How do I destroy it

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11 Green Deane April 7, 2013 at 21:32

Thanks for writing but that is not my area of expertise. I know how to grow them, not get rid of them.

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12 John Keatts April 30, 2013 at 11:05

Try pruning it rather then destroying it.

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13 Green Deane April 30, 2013 at 19:30

It’s climbing roots are not kind to wood.

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14 Sheila johnson April 14, 2013 at 16:30

Found these fruit growing on my wall and was not shocked, but surprised! Glad to know the truth about the fruit!

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15 Krishina September 24, 2013 at 08:17

But my dog eat some of these fruits and became sic…he has nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain

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16 pamela May 20, 2014 at 12:05

I just moved to Houston and I have these in my yard. It has taken over a huge pine tree and has been dropping 100+ fruits a day. My dog has been eating them, but he hasn’t gotten sick. My landlord doesn’t seem concerned, about the growth, but could it kill the pine tree over time?

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17 Green Deane May 20, 2014 at 18:29

They get quite large and heavy. If it were my pine tree I would be concerned and trimming.

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18 Mary June 9, 2014 at 00:44

What started as a 4 in. pot of this small leaf vine has all but killed a very mature pine in my front yard. Three large limbs have already broken off, but remained attached by the very strong vines that are now up to 1 inch in diameter. The vines overlap as they grow up and “join” making it next to impossible to kill it by even cutting foot wide sections away. I thought I had done enough damage by cutting away most of the vines around the tree last year, but enough lived and it’s bigger than ever. I cleaned up a large yard waste bag of the so called fruit today just so I could mow the grass. I am not a fan and feel that Home Depot should stop selling such a nuisance plant. It will cost a grand to remove the tree if I can’t save it.

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19 Green Deane June 9, 2014 at 08:20

This fig does have a dark side. Imagine what it does to buildings.

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