- Worldwide there are over 800 species of the genus Ficus (Latin: fig) and of
the more than 10 species found in the Philippines, Balete is a
shared common name for six of them: (1) Ficus
benjamina, salisi (2) Ficus elastica, Indian
rubber tree (3) Ficus indica, baleteng-baging
(4) Ficus payapa, payapa
(5) Ficus retusa, marabutan,
and (6) Ficus stipulosa, botgo.
- Weeping Fig is the official tree of Bangkok, Thailand.
Balete is a strangling, smooth plant, assuming a tree form and reaching a height of 15 meters or more. Branches are drooping. Leaves are leathery, oblong-ovate, 6 to 9 centimeters long, with prominent and rather slender point, rounded base, entire margins, smooth green and shining; the nerves slender and spreading, not prominent. Petioles are 5 to 10 millimeters long. Fruit is axillary, solitary, stalkless, dark-purple and fleshy when mature, somewhat spherical, and 1 centimeter in diameter.
- From northern Luzon to Mindanao, in most islands and provinces, in primary forests at low and medium altitudes.
- In Manila, planted as avenue and shade tree.
- Also occurs in India to southern China, Malaya, northern Australia, and the islands of the South Pacific.
- Bark contains 4.2 percent tannin.
- Latex contains 30% caoutchouc, along with 59% resin.
- Wax contains cerotic acid.
Extraction of leaves, bark, and fruits yielded six compounds: cinnamic acid, lactose, naringenin, quercetin, caffeic acid and stigmasterol. (11)
- GC/MS analysis of essential oil yielded four compounds in stem and eight compounds in root. HPLC analysis yielded four phenolic compounds (chlorogenic p-coumaric, ferulic and syringic acids) in roots, three (chlorogenic, p-coumaric, and ferulic acids) in stems, and one (caffeic acid) in leaves. (see study below) (15)
- Study of gum show major constituents of sucrose and d-glucose, constituting 60.92% of chemical constituents, while carboxylic acids (albietic acid 1.00%. hexadecanoic acid 4.41%, 9-octadecanoic acid 1.00%, stearic acid 3.01%, oleic acid 0.01%, octadecanoic acid 9.12%, and 6,13-pentacenequinone 20.43% accounted for the remaining constituents. (see study below) (18)
- Dermatitis and Allergic Reactions: Plant sap from all parts reported to cause minor skin irritation. Frequent contact may cause itching of the eyes, coughing, and wheezing. (4)
- Studies have suggested hepatoprotective, antibacterial, air-cleaning properties.
Bark, root, leaves.
• Root, bark of root and leaves boiled in oil and applied on wounds and bruises.
• Latex used to seal minor wounds.
• Juice of bark used for liver diseases.
• Pounded leaves and bark applied as poultice for rheumatic headache.
• In Mindanao, the Higaonon tribe of Rogongon, Iligan City, decoction of roots of Ficus benjamina is drank three times daily for relief of muscle pains or fatigue (bughat) in women; also used as appetite stimulant. (12)
• Landscape: In Manila, used as an avenue and shade tree.
• Rope: In the provinces, rope made from its bast.
• Household Allergen:
Ficus benjamina is a relatively common source of indoor household allergen, with a prevalence of sensitization similar to moulds. (1)
• Allergic / Toxic Irritative:
Study showed more complaints of asthmatic bronchitis, rhinoconjunctivitis and skin symptoms among gardeners handling Ficus benjamina (weeping fig) and Hedera helix (Ivy). (2)
• Asthma / Weeping Fig / Cross-Reactivities:
Study showed hypersensitivity to F. benjamina may cause IgE-mediated respiratory allergy. The association with allergy to fig and papains is likely due to cross-reactive allergen structures. (3)
• Hepatoprotective / CCl4-Induced Toxicity:
Study showed a hepatoprotective activity of an ethanolic extract of Ficus benjamina against CCl4-induced liver damage in rats. Silymarin was used as standard reference drug. (7)
• Leaves as Indicator of Atmospheric Pollution:
Study evaluated the suitability of Ficus benjamina leaves as a captor of heavy metal particles from atmospheric dusts in urban areas. Samples collected yielded values almost ten times higher than those obtained from unpolluted reference. (8)
• Hypersensitivity to Ficus benjamina / Implications in Food Allergy:
Study of exposure to Ficus benjamina and other Ficus species was documented in 101 (29%) of patients. Of the 22 with hypersensitivity to F. benjamina, 8 showed hypersensitivity to common edible fig, seven to kiwi and two to latex. Study concludes that both prevalence of exposure and sensitization to F. benjamina and presence of allergic manifestations in some patients should be a concern for the plant as an indoor allergen which may also have implications in food allergy. (9)
• Cross-Reactivity / Latex and Fig Fruit:
Allergic reactions to fresh or dried figs can present as a consequence of primary sensitization to airborne FB allergens independent of sensitization to rubber latex allergens. Other fruits like kiwi, papaya, avocado, pineapple, and banana may be associated with sensitization to Ficus allergens. (10)
• Constituents / Antibacterial / Cytotoxicity:
Leaves, bark, and fruits yielded six compounds: cinnamic acid, lactose, naringenin, quercetin, caffeic acid and stigmasterol. Caffeic acid showed strong cytotoxic activity against T-lymphoblastic leukemic (CEM-SS) cell line. The compounds showed antibacterial activity against B. cereus and P. oleaginous.(11)
• Constituents / Antimicrobial / Antioxidant / Hemolytic:
Study evaluated the antioxidant, antimicrobial, and hemolytic potential of stems, leaves, and roots of Ficus benjamina. All extracts and fractions were significantly rich in antioxidants and exhibited potent antimicrobial activity and substantial hemolytic activity. (see constituents above) (15)
• Volatile Formaldehyde Removal by Indoor Plants: In the NASA Clean Air Study that evaluated the ability of certain common indoor plants to provide a natural way of removing toxic agents, Ficus benjamina was listed as having potential to eliminate significant amounts of formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. (16) Study evaluated the volatile formaldehyde removal capacity of entire plant, aerial parts, and root zone of Ficus benjamina and F. Napoleonic. In both species, the aerial parts reduced the formaldehyde concentration during the day but little during the night. Root removal was the same for day and night. The effectiveness of the root zone for formaldehyde removal was due primarily to microorganisms and roots (90%); only 10% through absorption by growing medium. (20)
• Sub-Chronic Toxicity Study / Effect on Liver Functions / Leaves: Study evaluated the sub-chronic toxicity of ethanol extracts of leaves on liver function of white mice at doses of 200, 400, and 800 mg/kbw. Results showed the EE of leaves could significantly increase AST (p<0.05) at doses of 400 and 800 mg/kbw for 60 days, and significantly increase ALT (p<0.05) at dose of 800 mg/kbw. (17)
• Gum Corrosion Inhibition Potential / Aluminum: Study evaluated the corrosion inhibition potential of Ficus benjamina gum for aluminum. Results showed the gum to be an active inhibitor against corrosion of aluminum in solutions of tetraoxosulphate (VI) acid. (see constituents above) (19)
• Anthelmintic: Study evaluated the anthelmintic activity of Ficus benjamina figs against adult Indian earthworms Pheretima posthuma. Results showed dose dependent reduction in paralysis and death time. The methanol extract was most effective at 100 mg/kg and comparable to standard Piperazine citrate. (21)
• Nanoparticle Synthesis: Study reports on the synthesis of silver nanoparticles from Ficus benjamina. Results showed F. benjamina is able to synthesize nanoparticles, and the addition of three different cocktails of polyphenols with similar absorbance values increases the efficiency of production. (22)
/ Ethanol-Induced Liver Damage: Study of crude aqueous leaf extract on ethanol-induced hepatotoxicity in mice showed hepatoprotective activity similar to Silymarin. (23)
• Molluscicidal / Control of Schistosomiasis Vector / Leaves: Study evaluated the molluscicidal activity of a crude extract of F. benjamina leaves in Biomphalaria glabrata. Results showed low molluscicidal activity based on WHO parameters. The low activity may be due to sample collection, extraction form, and type of solvent use, resistance of snails, environmental and climatic factors. (24)
• Improvement of Indoor Air Quality: Weeping fig is in the NASA study of 10 plants that may improve indoor air quality. Study suggests F. benjamina is effective at cleansing airborne formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. (25)
• Silver Nanoparticles
/ Effect on Cervical Cancer Cells: Study reported on the green synthesis of silver nanoparticles using crushed leaves of F. benjamina as reducing agent and studied the effect on normal and cervical cancer cells. (26)
• Effect on Indoor CO2 Concentrations: Health is affected by the concentrations of CO2 in indoor spaces. Study evaluated the effects of indoor plants on concentration of CO2 in indoor environment under certain light conditions. All studied plants reduced the concentration of CO2 to a certain extent during the day. Ficus benjamina reduced the concentration of CO2 by 657 ppm. Ficus elastica and Yucca massengena considerably reduced CO2 concentrations during the day, but substantially increased it during the night, relative to other plants. (27)