The magnificent olive tree and its role in man’s history

MagnificentOliveTreeFew, if any, plants surpass the cultural and health role that the magnificent olive tree has played in the history of mankind from ancient times through today.

Thought to be native to the Mediterranean Basin, societies thousands of years ago revered the olive tree, not only for its long, long life, but for its contribution to agriculture to such an extent that it was often referred to as a “gift from the gods.”

The olive branch has… and still does… represent peace, or the offer to make peace, through the centuries.

The leafy branch of an olive tree has been used in many cultures to signify virginity and purity at weddings. A crown of olive twigs has represented wisdom, as well as victory in ancient battles and sports events.

Today olive leaves are still a symbol of victorious sporting events in numerous cultures.

Hippocrates, the ‘Father of Medicine,’ grew olive trees in his ‘pharmaceutical garden,’ and utilized the leaves and olives in many healing remedies, as did other ancient physicians.

The earliest fossil evidence of olive use was found in Mongardino, Italy, dating from the 12th millennium B. C., according to the International Olive Council (IOC), headquartered in Madrid, Spain.

Other early records of human use of olives were discovered in North Africa fossils from the Paleolithic era when humans used stone tools, and in Spain dating from the Bronze Age.

Food historian Francine Segan of New York, says olives were cultivated in the Mediterranean region since 2500 B. C., and quickly progressed to Syria and Palestine. Olive cultivation continued to spread to all the Greek Isles, Cyprus and Egypt by the 16th century B. C., courtesy of the Phoenicians.

Then the olive cultivation moved west to Sicily and southern Italy.

The ancient Romans continued the expansion, using the olive’s symbolism as a ‘peaceful weapon’ to subdue people and regions they had conquered.

The olive tree arrived in the Americas in 1492, via the first voyage of Columbus. By the mid-1500s olives were cultivated in Mexico and South America. Today olives are cultivated in Australia, China, Japan and South Africa.

Now we know that olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that lower cholesterol, normalize blood clotting, help stabilize insulin and control blood sugar—and is a ‘good fat’ factor in preventing cancers, brain damage and alterations of immune system stability through inflammatory conditions. (Mayo Clinic.)

We are just beginning to learn the many health benefits of olive oil, particularly extra virgin first cold-pressed—and the explanation of why many of the world’s longest living cultures consume olive oil as an essential nutritional mainstay (essential fatty acids, or EFAs).

As of 2012, the world’s leading producers of olives are Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Morocco.

Francine Segan supplies a recipe for olive relish from Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.):

“Green, black or mixed olives are to be made thus. Remove stones from the olives, then prepare as follows: Chop them and add oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue, mint. Cover with oil in an earthen dish and serve.” (A man of few words, trusting in individual tastes to determine amounts!)



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