According to blogger Jack Sullivan, “Around the end of the 19th Century a series of hucksters, promising remedies for various ailments, centered on the lowly fig as an elixir of great potency and healing. Figs are known to have a mild laxative effect and it was that quality that spawned the widespread sale of fig remedies. Among the most notable was the “Syrup of Figs” produced by the California Fig Syrup Co. of San Francisco. It came in labeled, embossed bottles that sold in drug stores across America at the not inconsiderable cost of a half dollar.
This company advertised widely in national magazines, frequently featuring comely women to illustrate its product. It claimed offices in Louisville, Kentucky; New York City, and London, England. Another advertising method was offering colorful lithographed tin signs to pharmacies stocking the syrup, again featuring a young lovely. The California Fig Syrup Co. was not without its imitators. Although figs are not native to Wisconsin, the Andrews Drug and Chemical Co. of Drillion had its own “Syrup of Figs.” Its product claimed to cure “many ills arising from an weak or inactive condition of the stomach, bowels, kidneys and liver.”
In the wake of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, health authorities targeted the fig remedies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Journal wrote: “Syrup of Figs is a laxative whose chief advertising asset is its name.” It continued that any purging action was due to the presence in the mix of 25% senna, a tropical herb with well-recognized laxative effects. The AMA also noted that the syrup was 6% alcohol, about the potency of beer. Eventually Federal officials forced the fig syrup floggers to list senna and alcohol on the label. In England, however, the product continued to be sold the old way. California Fig Syrup Co. simply prepared two different boxes and labels.”