Not just your little round addition to a drink. Olea europaea is of the family Oleaceae.
Description: It’s a slow-growing evergreen tree with gnarled trunk and slender gray, fissured branches, to 30 feet. The leaves are dark green, scaly and gray beneath, narrow oblong or pointed. White, fragrant flowers in panicles in summer are followed by hard ovoid fruits, green at first but later purple-black, with a single hard stone. Thorny wild form grows on stony hillsides in Mediterranean regions, cultivated forms widely grown in groves. It is hardy to zone 8. It is in leaf all year, in flower from August to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by the wind. The plant is self-fertile.
Cultivation: Trees only grow well away from frost and tropical heat. Easily grown in a loamy soil and tolerating infertile soils, it prefers a well-drained deep fertile soil. A drought resistant plant once established, it succeeds in dry soils and requires a sunny position. Tolerate of salty air, the plants are slow-growing and very long-lived. The olive is very commonly cultivated in Mediterranean climates for its edible seed. Trees can produce a crop when they are 6 years old and continue producing a commercial yield for the next 50 years – many trees continue to give good yields for hundreds of years, even when their trunk is hollow. Generally, older trees are hardy to about 22°F. At least some cultivars are self-fertile. Flower production depends on a 12 – 15 week period of diurnally fluctuating temperatures with at least 2 months averaging below 22°F. Pruning can encourage non-fruiting water-shoots. Weighing down or arching the branches can encourage fruiting. The plants fruit best on wood that is one year old so any pruning should take this into account. Plants have male flowers and bisexual flowers. Seed – sow late winter in a shady position in a greenhouse. Home produced seed should be given a period of cold stratification first. Where possible, it is best to sow the seed as soon as it is ripe in a greenhouse in the autumn. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter, perhaps for their first 2 – 3 winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer and give them some protection from winter cold for at least their first winter outdoors. The leaves are picked any time. The fruits picked when green, pink or red, or fully ripe, sometimes cracked, fermented and soaked in brine, or pressed for oil.
History: Since ancient times the principal source of edible oil in the eastern Mediterranean area. The olive has been cultivated for over 3000 years and its Latin name Olea, is the origin of the word oil. The tree was sacred to Athena, and sprang out of the ground when the city of Athens was founded. The olive is a symbol of plenty and its branch a Biblical symbol of peace. According to the Old Testament, Moses decreed that those who tended the olive groves were excused from military service. An olive wreath was given to victors in the Olympic Games. The leaves have been employed since at least that time as a means to clean wounds. The oil has been used for ritual anointing in some religions.
Properties: antiseptic, astringent, lowers fever and blood pressure, laxative and emollient
Medicinal Uses: Olive oil has a laxative action and is reputed to lower blood cholesterol levels. The leaves lower blood pressure and help to improve the function of the circulatory system. They are also mildly diuretic and may be used to treat conditions such as cystitis. Possessing some ability to lower blood sugar levels, the leaves have been taken for diabetes. Externally, warm olive oil dropped in the ear helps to relive earache, and makes a soothing massage for aching muscles. The oil is nourishing and improves the balance of fats within the blood. It is traditionally taken with lemon juice in teaspoonful doses to treat gallstones. The oil has a generally protective action on the digestive tract and is useful for dry skin. It reduces gastric secretions, which is of benefit to patients suffering from hyperacidity. In folk medicine, a strong infusion of the astringent leaves served as an antiseptic for wounds, and was also taken for fevers. The oil from the pericarp is cholagogue, a nourishing demulcent, emollient and laxative. Eating the oil reduces gastric secretions and is therefore of benefit to patients suffering from hyperacidity. The oil is also used internally as a laxative and to treat peptic ulcers. It is used externally to treat pruritis, the effects of stings or burns and as a vehicle for liniments. Used with alcohol it is a good hair tonic and used with oil of rosemary it is a good treatment for dandruff. The oil is also commonly used as a base for liniments and ointments. The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, febrifuge and sedative. A decoction is used in treating obstinate fevers, they also have a tranquilizing effect on nervous tension and hypertension. Experimentally, they have been shown to decrease blood sugar levels by 17 – 23%. Externally, they are applied to abrasions. The bark is astringent, bitter and febrifuge. It is said to be a substitute for quinine in the treatment of malaria. In warm countries the bark exudes a gum-like substance that has been used as a vulnerary.
Flower Essences: For those with complete exhaustion after a long struggle. Olive is helpful for many related, but lesser states of transformation—any time the physical body experiences utter fatigue and breakdown and the individual needs to reach to a higher place for its revitalization. Olive helps bring the awareness that the physical self is profoundly connected with higher states of soul-spiritual consciousness.
Cosmetic Uses: Massage olive oil into the skin to maintain the body in top condition. It guards against dry skin. The oil mixed with alcohol is a valuable tonic for the hair when massaged into the scalp and it is included in many facial creams. For dry, damaged hair, try rubbing in olive oil and leave it on overnight.
Lip Salve: To 2 tsp of olive oil, add enough beeswax to fill a eggcup, place into a small saucepan. Add a handful of tips of young rosemary shoots and simmer for 30 minutes. Then add a cupful of rose water for fragrance and while still warm, strain into screw-top face cream jars and allow to set. Apply to the lips when sore or as a base before using a lipstick.
Culinary Uses: Not only the fruits but also the leaves are edible. Olive fruits are widely used, especially in the Mediterranean, as a relish and flavoring for foods. The fruit is usually pickled or cured with water, brine, oil, salt or lye. They can also be dried in the sun and eaten without curing when they are called ‘fachouilles’. The cured fruits are eaten as a relish, stuffed with pimentos or almonds, or used in breads, soups, salads etc. ‘Olives schiacciate’ are olives picked green, crushed, cured in oil and used as a salad. The fruit contains 20 – 50µ vitamin D per 100g. The seed is rich in an edible non-drying oil, this is used in salads and cooking and, because of its distinct flavor, is considered a condiment. There are various grades of the oil, the finest (known as ‘Extra Virgin’) is produced by cold pressing the seeds without using heat or chemical solvents. The seed of unpalatable varieties is normally used and this oil has the lowest percentage of acidity and therefore the best flavor. Other grades of the oil come from seeds that are heated (which enables more oil to be expressed but has a deleterious effect on the quality) or from using chemical solvents on seed that has already been pressed for higher grades of oil. Olive oil is mono-unsaturated and regular consumption is thought to reduce the risk of circulatory diseases. The seed contains albumen, it is the only seed known to do this. An edible manna is obtained from the tree.
Other Uses: The non-drying oil obtained from the seed is also used for soap making, lighting and as a lubricant. The oil is a good hair tonic and dandruff treatment. Maroon and purple dyes are obtained from the whole fresh ripe fruits. Blue and black dyes are obtained from the skins of fresh ripe fruits.
A yellow/green dye is obtained from the leaves. Plants are used to stabilize dry dusty hillsides. Wood – very hard, heavy, beautifully grained, takes a fine polish and is slightly fragrant. It is used in turnery and cabinet making, being much valued by woodworkers. Oil is added to liniments, ointments, skin and hair preparations and soap.
Black Olive Soup
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup pitted black olives
1 green onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 cup half and half
Combine first 7 ingredients in blender container. Process for 1 minute. Pour into saucepan. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Stir in half and half. Serve hot or chilled. (Hilton Head Entertains)
Turkish Kebabs with Tomato and Olive Salsa
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 dried red chili, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 ¼ lb lean lamb, cut into 1 ½ in cubes
8 bay leaves
salt and ground black pepper
Tomato and Olive Salsa
1 ½ cups mixed pitted green and black olives, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
Mix the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, chili, cumin and coriander in a large shallow dish. Add the lamb cubes, with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Cover and marinate in a cool place for 2 hours. Make the salsa. Put the olives, onion, tomatoes, chili and olive oil in a bowl. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover and set aside. Remove the lamb from the marinade and divide the cubes among four skewers, adding the bay leaves at intervals. Broil over a barbecue, on a ridged iron broiling pan or under a hot broiler, turning occasionally for 10 minutes, until the lamb is browned and crisp on the outside and pink and juice inside. Serve with the salsa. (Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices)
Cosmetics from the Earth, Roy Genders, Alfred van der Marck Editions, 1985; ISBN: 0-912383-20-8
Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices, Linda Fraser (editor); Anness Publishing, 1997; ISBN: 1-901289-06-0
Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses, Deni Bown
Flower Essence Repertory, Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz, The Flower Essence Society, 1994; ISBN: 0-9631306-1-7
The Herbal Grove, Mary Forsell and Tony Cenicola, 1995; Villard Books; ISBN: 0-679-40841-X
The Herbal Palate Cookbook, Maggie Oster & Sal Gilbertie, Storey Publishing, 1996; ISBN: 0-88266-915-C
Hilton Head Entertains, Nancy Pruitt, Editor, Hilton Head Preparatory School; 1991; ISBN: 0-87197-320-0
Plants for a Future Database
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